The Cuba Project: A Design Thinking Workshop
3 credits in Arts, Engineering, or Management
Program Dates in Richmond, VA: 15 May – 2 June 2017
Travel Dates to Cuba: 22 May – 30 May 2017
$1,700 (includes airfare) + applicable VCU tuition. Find full details on the Budget Sheet!
Sara Reed, Department of Interior Design, School of the Arts
Jay Markiewicz, Executive Director of Entrepreneurship Programs, School of Business
15 February 2017
The Global Education Office, the School of the Arts, the School of Business, and the School of Engineering are pleased to present a design thinking program. This three-credit, three-week course brings together students from various disciplines to create a collaborative environment to support problem solving through a methodology of design thinking. According to Tim Brown, president and CEO of the award-winning design firm IDEO, “Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer's toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” At the core of design thinking is an understanding of human relationships and a mindful approach to the examination of design problems and solutions. Through the practice of design thinking, students will explore personal biases and perspectives, underscoring empathy and deeper human connections, and create opportunities for greater innovation and sustainable practice. An intensive one-week immersive design thinking workshop in Havana, Cuba will be bookended by two weeks spent on the VCU Monroe Park campus, as a way to both prepare for and conclude this immersive program.
Course and credit options
- ARTS 491/ENGR 491/MGMT 491: The Cuba Project: Developing Design Leaders (3 credits, undergraduate)
- ARTS 591: The Cuba Project: Developing Design Leaders (3 credits, graduate)
The Education Abroad office will enroll students in the course upon receipt of the registration.
This three-credit, three-week course brings together students from various disciplines in the School of the Arts, School of Business and School of Engineering to create a collaborative environment to support problem solving through a methodology of design thinking. According to Tim Brown, president and CEO of the award-winning design firm IDEO, “Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer's toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” At the core of design thinking is an understanding of human relationships and a mindful approach to the examination of design problems and solutions. Through the practice of design thinking, students will explore personal biases and perspectives, underscoring empathy and deeper human connections, and create opportunities for greater innovation and sustainable practice. An intensive one-week immersive design thinking workshop in Havana, Cuba will be bookended by two weeks spent on the VCU Monroe Park campus, as a way to both prepare for and conclude this immersive program.
The directors of the program, Jay Markiewicz (Entrepreneurship) and Sara Reed (Interior Design) will guide students through a design thinking methodology by considering constraint as a point of departure. Cuba will serve as a case study of a highly constrained environment, in which everyday Cubans have responded to material scarcity with innovative design solutions. Since the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the Cuban people have experienced ebbs and flows of insufficient resources, which became especially critical after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. Everyday Cubans began creatively repurposing objects in their everyday lives to survive, and fabricating something out of nothing became an essential skill. Cuban designer and conceptual artist Ernesto Oroza has noted, “The tops of penicillin vials have become the best solution for valves on pressure cookers. Deodorant canisters proved excellent electrical switches (close the lid to turn the electricity on!). Defective fluorescent tubes now make up 3D picture frames. An old 33-rpm vinyl, cut properly, would serve as a fan blade—and its creators could reproduce copies of it. An old and deteriorated Eagle kerosene lamp reappeared when power outages became common, and sometimes a milk bottle or gas tank functioned as the lampshade. Each creation’s new appearance and new function made it unique.” This study abroad opportunity will offer students a unique perspective to examine ideas of sustainability, innovation, and design practice.
Students will work in teams of three and be given two key constraints— a single material (bamboo) and a restricted domestic interior. In 2013, sources suggested that as much as 57 percent of Cuban homes were in poor or inadequate condition, with a housing deficit of seven hundred thousand residents. The unfortunate situation is owed to various reasons including a shortage of building materials, a lack of capital on the island as well as frequent tropical storms and hurricanes in the region. For this course, we will focus on an area called Habana Vieja, or Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which consists of mostly early twentieth century buildings. Groups will be asked to design furniture that can perform two functions and also be stored. Using bamboo as the primary material and two found materials, students will be assigned a specific space within a dwelling. Upon arrival in Cuba, students will begin building their prototypes in bamboo, and they will likely have to make adjustments based on the available secondary materials needed to complete their projects. Students may choose to modify their designs after spending time in Cuba.
Students who are rising juniors or seniors in the School of Engineering, School of Business and School of the Arts are eligible to apply for the undergraduate course. An academic letter of reference is strongly encouraged, and should be submitted by email directly to the program directors. Finalists will be contacted by the program director for interviews.
Accommodations and meals
Students will stay in casas particulares
, a Cuban type of bed and breakfast, in Old Havana. Breakfasts are included in the program fee, as is all in-country transportation.
currently teaches the graduate level course in history and theory of interior environments in the Department of Interior Design. She enjoys working with students to develop their research interests and enrich their design practice through historical and theoretical analysis. Sara’s doctoral work at the University of Delaware focused on American material culture studies with an emphasis on American art and decorative arts. However, her dissertation expands further into the Atlantic world by examining domestic advice found in Cuban popular magazines during the 1950s and 1960s, uncovering ideals of modernity and domesticity during a critical time of shifting ideologies.
brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table in his role as faculty for the School of Business Entrepreneurship Program. He takes aim at creating innovative learning experiences for the classroom, growing Entrepreneurship efforts for VCU and the School of Business, and strategically partnering with both internal and community stakeholders. Jay's career background speaks to his diversity - a Navy Nuclear Power Officer, corporate Fortune 100 leader, Executive Director of a non-profit, and finally as founder of small business and start-up ventures like Inner Competitor®. He holds credentials in leadership coaching, notably as a graduate of the esteemed Georgetown Institute for Transformational Leadership Coaching Program. His MBA is from the University of South Carolina, and BS in Mechanical Engineering from The Pennsylvania State University. When not developing entrepreneurs, Jay passionately pursues the sport of triathlon and races for Team USA. Most important to Jay is family. You will find Jay and his family hiking, story-telling, going crazy over the Steelers, and playing with their just as active and energetic pets. Welcome to the department Jay!
A valid passport is required to leave the US. If a student does not already have a passport, they are advised to begin the application process as soon as they are accepted into the program. The processing time for new passport applicants can be as long as 8 weeks. For students who already have passports, they will need to verify that the passport’s validity dates extend 6 months past their return date. For more information about passports and the application/renewal process, please consult the State Department's website
Payment of fees
In order to complete the application, students are required to submit a $250 registration fee and deposit. This $250 registration fee and deposit is refundable in two cases: if the program is cancelled, or if a student is rejected by the faculty member based on their qualifications to participate in the program. Reasons for rejection could include, but are not limited to, GPA, lack of a pre-requisite, unacceptable or inappropriate statement of interest, etc. and are at the discretion of the faculty program director. However, if a student pays the fee and is not given final acceptance to the program based on failing to complete application requirements, as determined by the Education Abroad office or faculty director, the $250 is non-refundable.
Students will receive two separate charges to their student accounts for this program: one charge will reflect the balance of the program fee (minus the $250 deposit and application fee) and the other charge is for VCU tuition costs (based on the number and type of credits being taken by the student). These bills will be charged through VCU Student Accounting and should appear by May 2016.
Please note: While these charges may post to the student’s account simultaneously or separately, it is the student’s responsibility to make sure the account balance is paid before the billing due date.
Withdrawal procedures and financial commitment policy
All withdrawals must be made formally in writing and submitted to the Director of Education Abroad. Otherwise, the program fee will not be refunded. After committing to the program, students deciding to withdraw will be held accountable for a portion of or the entire program fee based on the following schedule:
- Formal withdrawal submitted later than 30 days before the first day of the program abroad: 100% of the program fee will be charged
- Formal withdrawal submitted within 30-60 days before the first day of the program abroad: 75% of the program fee will be charged
- Formal withdrawal submitted within 60-90 days before the first day of the program abroad: 50% of the program fee will be charged
In the event an unexpected emergency occurs within 30 days before the first day of the program abroad, students must provide a physician’s certification that his/her condition prohibits participation. In this case, refunds will be limited to only those funds VCU is able to recover or that have not already been spent on behalf of the student.
See above for refund policy on $250 registration fee and deposit.
Students should schedule an appointment with their physician or at a travel clinic (such as VCU Student Health) at least 4 to 8 weeks before the program to inquire about recommended and/or required vaccines/immunizations. It is the responsibility of the student to ensure that all routine and travel immunizations are up-to-date.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on recommended and required immunizations for travelers. To view the health risks and requirements for the country to which you will be traveling, please visit the CDC's website
Health Alert: Zika Virus
The CDC has issued a travel alert for countries where the Zika virus is prevalent. Check the CDC’s travel notices
regularly as new countries are being added to this list. Check VCU Student Health
to stay updated as well.
VCU Student Health offers in-depth pre-travel consultation with a health care provider as well as most of the vaccines recommended for safe travel. Prescriptions for recommended medicines are also available. Please visit their website
for full details.
Every effort is made to provide updated and accurate information at the time of publication. The sponsors reserve the right to make necessary changes to the programs and costs. The university reserves the right to revise or alter all fees, regulations pertaining to student fees, and fee collection procedures at any time.