The Charger Blog

Unique Design Course Enables Students to Serve the Community

“Community Design” is a hands-on course that offers students exciting opportunities to gain experience working with real-world clients, including nonprofits. It’s a rewarding way for students to build their skills while interacting with professionals.

May 22, 2024

By Ally Staples ’25 and Ollie Rojowski ’25

The University of New Haven’s main campus in West Haven, Conn.
The University of New Haven’s main campus in West Haven, Conn.

As part of their “Community Design” course, several Chargers had the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom through service-focused projects. They collaborated with state offices and nonprofit organizations, including the Office of the Connecticut Secretary of State, developing a series of nonpartisan voter education initiatives, such as social media information campaigns and posters. One student was offered an exciting internship opportunity after successfully completing the assignment.

Other students collaborated with Esperanza United, a Minnesota-based nonprofit that serves members of the Latin@ community. The organization focuses on research and education initiatives, as well as critical issues, such as domestic abuse. Students reimagined their website. Students also worked with Youth Entrepreneurs, a local nonprofit founded by Laquita Joyner-McGraw, Ph.D., MBA, a management lecturer at the University, that offers workshops to middle and high school students that, covering topics such as financial literacy. Chargers developed marketing materials for the organization, including social media content and brochures.

Winning Ways, a local organization, was another organization that worked with Chargers. It offers programming to underserved communities, focusing on re-entry after incarceration and ending poverty and homelessness. Students developed a variety of communications, including information campaigns and social media posts.

Below, two students reflect on their experience.

Ally Staples ’25 (left) and Rachel Greiner ’24
Ally Staples ’25 (left) and Rachel Greiner ’24
Ally Staples ’25

When I was given the opportunity to work for the Connecticut Secretary of State, I instantly knew I wanted to do it. I have had a passion for civic engagement for a few years now, and being able to design things for that purpose was such an exciting experience. The process of working for them has given me a ton of insight into what civic engagement can look like, and how it is not just voting in every election. There are always local initiatives you can be a part of that are just as important.

This knowledge allowed me to create designs that broaden the scope of what people expect from civic-engagement inspiration. Working with the Connecticut Secretary of State as a client has been super beneficial for me, as it has allowed me to experience designing for a real-life client for the first time. The process is much different than the hypothetical projects we often do in class. I had deadlines set by others that I had to follow, an existing design system to work within, and the opinions of others to work around, while still keeping my creative vision for the project alive.

It has been incredibly fulfilling for me as a designer and as a student. I truly feel this experience has shown me I am meant to be in this field, and I have the skills to succeed. Seeing how excited Secretary Thomas was when we showed her our designs brought me to tears. I have never been so proud of a project. This excitement and joy from others over my work has given me a new, elevated passion for design. I want to bring that level of happiness to other people I work with, as it brings such a large sense of creative fulfillment and personal achievement.

Additionally, I got an internship with the Connecticut Secretary of State through my experience with them in this class. That was the cherry on top of this experience. Knowing I will be able to further my work with the Connecticut Secretary of State over the summer is so exciting, and I can’t wait to showcase my skillset to them further.

Ollie Rojowski ’25 helped design Esperanza United’s website.
Ollie Rojowski ’25 helped design Esperanza United’s website.
Ollie Rojowski ’25

During my time in Community Design, my group and I were tasked with redesigning a website for the honorable organization Esperanza United. We worked closely with the nonprofit, whose mission is to help mobilize Latin and Latin@ communities to end gender-based violence, to create a website that optimizes accessibility.

I put extreme value in the safety of domestic abuse victims. Therefore, I was honored to work with Esperanza United. While redesigning the website, we used color as an organization tool, in order to help people differentiate pages and type of information. We also rearranged the site's tool kits, in order to make the information easier to navigate by the community seeking help.

Not only was I able to make an impact through my love of graphic design, but I also found the experience to be one full of growth and discoveries. Creation that stems directly from another individual's opinions and priorities is an incredibly rewarding experience. Since this was the first time having direct client feedback, I was surprised to find my “design roadblocks” were easier to navigate. I was less likely to second guess myself, which made it easier to channel my creative vision as a designer. This resulted in a website that I'm incredibly proud of being a part of developing.

I'm thankful for my peers who worked with me on this project for showing me different perspectives and ideas. I loved working with a team and seeing how everyone's strengths were able to come together to create a well-rounded website. Overall, this experience was gratifying in multiple ways. Although I'm unsure where my career path will take me, I found that my interest in website design and UX/UI (user experience and user interface) design grew exponentially through this course.

Ally Staples ’25 and Ollie Rojowski ’25 are graphic design majors at the University of New Haven.