In order to have a government that one day works for everyone, Ashley Moon (MDes '20) believes more people have to see the value in getting involved in it. For her thesis project, Moon (MDes '20), set out to use design principles to promote civic engagement amongst high school students by empowering them to speak out on the issues that matter to them.
"The way our education system is designed leaves students out and creates race and class disparities between schools, communities, and students," Moon says. "Not all students are learning to see themselves as change agents."
To help remedy that, Moon worked with the team at Equitable Futures (EF), as well as teachers at Detroit-area schools to develop a multi-week zine-making workshop. Over the course of the program, teachers implement different design activities to help students examine social justice topics of their choice and ultimately produce zines–handmade publications with small circulations and low-budget production values–to be distributed into the world. The simple, low-cost activities only require a paper and pencil to complete, which keeps them accessible, even to underfunded districts.
Ideas she had read about in zines as an undergraduate in her home state of Montana partly fueled Moon's own interest in social justice and community. It was around that time, she also started thinking more about the role design can play in improving governance, as she explored ways to revamp public assistance forms, eventually leading to her employment as a designer within state government.
Following initial one-off zine-making workshops organized with her cohort and the EF team in spring 2019, Moon decided to expand the format into a longer-term program teachers can implement in a variety of classrooms, including language arts and English as a second (ESL) language courses.
"That was just one workshop, and it was successful," Moon says. "Students said, 'I am heard; I'm able to put all my thoughts into this form and put it out there.'"
After spending the summer of 2019 developing her prototype and undergoing Institutional Review Board (IRB) certification to ensure ethical implementation, Moon spent the fall working with Brandon Moss’ four Civics classes at a local high school, Arts Academy in the Woods, in the Detroit suburb of Fraser, Michigan. To conclude the workshop, students planned and led a showcase to share their work, which covered topics from human trafficking to reproductive rights to Black Lives Matter and school funding.
"They were really proud to put it together and share their zines," Moon says.
While public service and community organizing have long been priorities for Moon, through this process she realized she also has a passion for working with young people.
"If all students are learning to see themselves as change agents and seeing government as something they have the power to transform, then maybe one day we can have a democracy that represents all people, inclusive of individuals and communities who have been historically marginalized," she says.
Moon has kept her rural roots in mind, despite a heavy focus on urban environments these last two years. She's looking forward to bringing her skills back to Montana one day to address complex issues in her home state and is considering one day running for public office.
Through her work, Moon also realized the powerful role research, methodology, and systems thinking play in designing preferable outcomes for complex problems and diverse populations.
"I was not exposed to formal design research before the MDes program," she says. "now knowing scholarly design research methods and practice, I have the skills to articulate and facilitate collaborations with people. This makes communicating the design processes more effective so that I'm not treading water talking about design, but rather allowing people to discover the value for themselves."