Students use design to solve healthcare problems

Areeba Khwaja

When most people hear the word “design,” they think about fashion or interior design — but now UT students are using design to tackle healthcare.

The Model Healthy Campus Internship promotes health on campus by teaching interns to recognize and understand the health-related needs of people on campus. The internship program was created this year as a collaboration between Dell Medical School and the Wellness Network. 

“What we wanted to do is understand what health means to this campus and then start a conversation on a huge scale — a scale the size of UT — between students, faculty and staff,” systems designer Lucas Artusi said. “We want to create a grassroots innovation in health and well-being.”

The pilot internship program included undergraduate students from all fields of study. The internship taught them about “design thinking,” a process that centers desirable solutions around the end user. 

Students spent a weekend learning about design thinking, interviewing people on campus about their perceptions of health, interpreting their needs and then coming up with compelling solutions for these needs.

“We were pleased by how much people personally gained from it,” Artusi said.

Artusi and project manager Meghana Gadgil said the program will continue during the fall semester. They hope that the internship will go on to create a culture of open discussion about health on campus.

“It’s important to establish that health means something to us that’s much broader than just its clinical definition,” Artusi said.  “It’s everything in our lives, including our relationships and even our financial situation.”

Gadgil said she hopes that their interns can apply their new knowledge about design to any field.

“If you ask a room full of kindergartners who’s creative, they will all raise their hands. By the time they get to high school, it might just be a few kids in the back. By the time they enter the working world, it’s almost nobody,” Artusi said. “The truth is that we beat creativity out of people because we think it doesn’t matter or that it isn’t really relevant.”

However, Artusi said he hopes that the internship has empowered the interns to feel safe and creative.

“That’s what’s so wonderful about design — that it offers an outlet to be creative,” he said.

Public health freshman Paige Milson, one of the Model Healthy Campus interns, said she loved learning how much the design of a product or service can influence a person’s decision-making process.

“Because we live in a consumer-driven society, design thinking is applicable in almost every field,” Milson said. “I think in the coming years, this internship will grow in scale and people who are a part of it will generate brilliant ideas that will be tested, refined and developed into concrete changes in our community.”