AP Design Assists Wounded Warriors
Normally, graduate students in the Interior Architecture and Product Design program take on a school project. This semester, Associate Professor Vibhavari Jani, had something bigger in mind.
Jani partnered with Soldier Agricultural Vocational Education (SAVE), an organization started by Retired Maj. Gary LaGrange, a Vietnam War veteran. The organization's mission is to provide agricultural vocational education and healing resources to returning wounded soldiers.
The project consists of graduate students who will design a farming center for returning soldiers who want to learn the vocation. “It’s his vision that we’re going to create a campus and learning farm to bring soldiers who are looking to go from the military life and move back into civilian life,” said Christine Donley, graduate student in Interior Architecture and Product Design.
The need for farmers in the U.S. is now greater than ever. According to Jani, the country is experiencing a shortage of one million farmers. Luckily, 45 percent of returning soldiers have expressed interest in the profession. To give these soldiers a place to learn the trade, SAVE is developing a farming training center. The program would consist of a one-year certification process. While learning, soldiers would also be receiving health support.
Many returning soldiers suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Jani sees the center as an opportunity for soldiers to not only learn a new trade, but heal in a nature-based environment. In addition to the healing center where soldiers would receive psychological support, there will be a recreational center and a physical and occupational therapy center.
Another important aspect of the project for Jani was to introduce her students to the idea of service learning. “My goal really was to involve students in this very important project so that we can introduce them to the concept of empathy,” said Jani. “How you can understand someone else’s pain and assist them… We really are trying to get our students to see how humanitarian aspects is the main goal of their work. Humanity is the forefront in any design thinking, but especially in this project.”
According to Donley, the project has been invaluable in teaching her that skill. “Design is something where you have to learn to be empathetic… if I had these problems, what would I do to solve them?” said Donley. “The whole goal of design is to be able to give back.”
Erin Heiden, graduate student in Interior Architecture and Product Design, agrees. “As designers, we need to constantly remember universal design,” said Heiden. “These soldiers have sacrificed so much for us, it's an honor to be able to create something special for them. I feel very privileged and grateful to be a part of the SAVE project.”
The response from both the students and the soldiers has been overwhelmingly positive. Jani plans to continue working with Wounded Warriors in the future. “Through this project I’m reaching out and fulfilling my goal of creating peace within society, within the community, and within human development,” said Jani.