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Students design prototype products for Alabama nonprofit

Thursday, January 28, 2016

LAWRENCE — Over winter break 14 students from the Departments of Design and Architecture traveled to Greensboro, Alabama. There, they spent 12 to 16 hours each day for two weeks designing, building, testing, breaking, rebuilding, sometimes cursing, but never giving up in their quest to develop two new products of made of locally sourced bamboo.

The fruits of their labors are prototype push-bikes and paddleboards that can be manufactured and marketed by local craftspeople who work at HERObike, a nonprofit bike shop in Greensboro. Professor of Industrial Design Lance Rake and Design Department Chair Andrea Herstowski, who have been bringing KU students to work with HERObike for some five years, led the students.

The intensive, hands-on experience enables students to learn to work in teams. During a 72-hour “design blitz” they were immersed in every aspect of the process of creating new products: a bamboo harvest in a torrential downpour, prototype production in HERObike’s shop. Their early drafts debuted during midnight push-bike trials on Greenboro’s main street and a sink-or-swim paddleboard launch on a nearby lake one morning at dawn.

“This immersive experience is a great way for students to practice what they know and push their comfort zones. They have to pick up new skills fast,” Herstowski said. “This is my fourth time down to Greensboro with students, and each time I am impressed with how well it goes. They are together 24 hours a day, housing is tight, deadlines are tight, and the days are long.”

The students learn about the effects of their decisions on the time, labor and costs of production, and what happens when their design doesn’t stand up to the rigors of everyday use. In particular, they gain an appreciation of how a successful design that can be manufactured and sold can positively affect the economy of an entire town.

“The two weeks I spent in Greensboro taught me more about teamwork, design and service than I could have learned in a semester. I feel honored to have been a part of a determined group of passionate people,” said Veronica Villhard, a St. Louis industrial design student.

Echoing Veronica's thoughts, architecture student Alexandra Frost, Omaha, said, “It was truly inspiring to get to work with such dedicated people and see design being used to help this town and its people.”

HERObike is one of a number of businesses opened by the Hale Empowerment and Revitalization Organization, a community development organization dedicated to ending rural poverty in areas in and around Hale County, where Greensboro is located.

”Our small rural Alabama town came alive when the Jayhawks arrived,” said Pam Dorr, of Hero Housing. “Everyone came away impressed by this group of caring students who gave up vacation time with friends and family to serve in Greensboro. It is inspiring to spend time with young people that share their talent and passion."

To see a gallery of Sidekick push-bike photos and videos made during the class, go to: https://go.ku.edu/27hP29.

Students who participated in the class include: Chelsea Anderson, Overland Park; Laura Blake, Derby; Kevin Bower, Lee's Summit, Missouri; Drew Buffkin, De Soto; Jacob Crawford, Lenexa; Lars Erickson, Olathe; Alexandria Frost, Omaha; Sydney Grimm, St. Louis; Alex Guinn, Overland Park; Jack Hoard, Topeka; Michael Hornsby, Kansas City, Missouri; Hanan El Shoubaki, Los Angeles; Veronica Villhard, St. Louis; and Rebekah Winegarner, Overland Park.

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