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71 | Teaching Design, Teaching Leadership

Dr. Barbara Brown Wilson is an educator whose research and teaching focus on the history, theory, ethics, and practice of sustainable community design and development, as well as the role of urban social movements in the built world.

71 | Teaching Design, Teaching Leadership

Dr. Brown Wilson believes that the problems impacting the public interest design world can only be addressed through the collective action of design professionals, educators, and students. She supports programs that encourage students to expand their interest in public interest design. By encouraging student leadership and allowing students to become active in decision-making processes, Dr. Brown Wilson hopes to transform the educational design system to better serve both communities in need and young professionals aspiring to make a difference.

Many educational design programs for young adults often lack the beneficial long-term relationship that comes from working with a community partner. Because most programs are limited to a semester, students are not able to fully participate in the emotional and intellectual learning that is involved in lengthy public interest design projects. Instead, Dr. Brown Wilson supports educational programs that sustain long-term goals and relationships between community partners and students. 

In 2013, Dr. Brown Wilson co-founded the Design Futures Student Leadership Forum, a five-day gathering of students, educators, and professionals from various disciplines. This annual event brings together individuals from across the country to discuss issues relating to social design. The Forum consists of workshops on social justice and civil rights-centered design seminars led by experts in a number of fields. Participating institutions send five students and one faculty member each year to participate in the Leadership Forum. Not only does the forum give students the opportunity to have their voices heard, but also allows faculty members to refine skills relevant to their curriculum and professionals to share their work.

Outside of the classroom, Dr. Brown Wilson’s work includes authoring Resilience for All: Striving for Equity through Community-Driven Design, and co-authoring Questioning Architectural Judgement: The Problem of Codes in the United States

Currently, Dr. Brown Wilson is an associate professor at UVA, where she has co-founded an exciting center that co-produces research with local residents to redress racial and social inequities

We had a chance to speak with Dr. Brown Wilson about her work on Social Design Insights. Learn how social design is taught, and how it can be taught better.


Social Design Insights would like to thank all those who make our weekly show possible: Baruch Zeichner, our Producer and Sound Engineer, Donna Read, for producing our video content, and Leah Freidenrich, Director of the Curry Stone Foundation. Our theme music for 2018 is "Alright With Me" by Reggie Young from his album "Young Street." The break music is " West Virginia Fantasies" by Chicago from their album "Chicago II."