CGI U 2013 at Washington University in St. Louis

D*Serves (Design Serves)

De Andrea Nichols

De Andrea Nichols, graduate student at the Brown School

De Andrea Nichols is a “creative catalyst” who’d like to empower youth to be the same.

Her project: D*Serve (Design Serves) aims to inspire youth who live in disinvested neighborhoods by providing them with experience and education in design and civic leadership. The idea is to help teens first identify what exactly it is they want — and deserve — in their community, and then guide them toward reinvigorating culture, socio-economy, and physical spaces through sustainable innovations. Through a partnership with the Rebuild Foundation, Nichols’ project seeks to serve the Hyde Park neighborhood of north St. Louis.

“Right now, within the larger design movement, there is a growing interest in human-centered design,” says Nichols, who is a candidate for an MSW in social entrepreneurship at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis. “This project allows us to work in the best of both worlds — serving the community and being as creative as possible in order to do that.”

In the Hyde Park neighborhood, most residential spaces lie vacant throughout the community, serving as a microcosm of the nearly 20 percent of residential vacancies that affect the larger St. Louis metropolitan area. “Youth in the Hyde Park community are surrounded by numerous growing efforts by organizations that serve to address vacancy within the neighborhood, yet few initiatives directly utilize the power, voices, or visions of teens and adolescents as they generate progressive ideas in the city,” Nichols says.

Her idea has gotten a lot of attention. “People are identifying with the fact we need to do more than empower youth in impoverished communities,” she says. “We need to entrust them — let them be the innovators, thought leaders and civic developers.”

For more on the project, visit the D*Serve website.

Nichols is looking to CGI U to help expand D*Serve, which first started as a pilot project in Cleveland, Miss. “I’m looking forward to making connections to other like-minded students and thought leaders, and getting D*Serves connected to other campuses that aren’t far away from neighborhoods in need,” she says.