Instead of interning, I’ve been looking to alternative forms of learning experiences and community engagement this past year. Last semester, I spent most of my time re-integrating myself into the NYU community, whereas this semester, though I’ve been continuing my work with the university community, I’ve also found myself engaged with Project BREAKER, a twelve-week design project – started by TED fellow Juliette LaMontagne – seeking to solve a challenge posed by a visionary.
This session’s challenge, proposed by environmental justice advocate Majora Carter, is to develop a new product or service aimed to improve urban agriculture. Admittedly, going into the project, I knew nothing about agriculture, let alone about urban agriculture. The only knowledge about anything “food production-related” that I had came from the documentaries that I’ve watched in my spare time. That said, I was more so initially drawn to the project because of the amount of group work involved (I’ve only ever worked in small groups of two to three, or solo) and the free reign provided. Becoming immediately immersed through literature, previous TED Talks, websites, informational interviews, and other resources really shed a lot of light on an area that I had only ever thought about in passing when at at the supermarket or farmer’s market.
All of these sessions, every Friday and Saturday, have made me reconsider and re-evaluate a lot of things, not just about the possibilities of urban agriculture. For instance, over the past few weeks, I’ve learned a lot more about what it actually means to collaborate and brainstorm. In retrospect, I’ve always found myself getting too ahead of myself, whittling down the options before I even listed all the possibilities that could exist. But through this more structured method of design, I consciously realized that brainstorming and refining are two separate processes.
What I’ve also come to realize is that no one person needs to be an expert to jump into any project; all that is required is a willingness to learn and to embrace new experiences. I thought I would be completely out of my league, but I quickly learned that some had about similar amounts of exposure, and we all quickly caught up to speed with the more knowledgeable members through simple resource sharing and immersion. Granted, sharing experiences and being immersed have always stuck out as being keys to learning for me, but it took something so out of my field to make me really appreciate and realize such.
And lastly, being hands-on by means of visuality is how I function best. I’ve often speculated about myself that I learn and contribute well in face-to-face settings because I can lock the referential images of a classroom in my head, but this project, thus far, has really affirmed that for me. Being able to link the information gained with actual site visits and workshops in these past weeks have really fortified my understanding of how I acquire knowledge.
With all that said, I’m excited since we are approaching the mid-phase point (this coming Friday) in which we take our more fleshed out brainstroming, present them to another design team, and then proceed to refine our solutions into viable businesses and services.