Classroom to Community: A Bridge from Academic Projects to Real-World Impact


There is widespread recognition that project-based, experiential learning provides powerful positive impacts on undergraduate education. In particular, design-based projects in which students tackle complex, open-ended problems of their own choosing are strongly motivating, empower students to translate theory into practice, and immerse students in an integrative, complex real-world learning milieu. Despite the successful learning promoted by design projects in classes, there currently does not exist a means for students to continue the design and technical development of a project begun in a class in a structured and faculty-guided manner within a supportive communal environment outside of the classroom. In many cases students develop a project in a one or two- semester course, are excited and motivated by the preliminary results they achieve, and then the course ends. We therefore propose a pilot program to enable high-potential – and potentially high-impact – student design projects to be supported and continue beyond the particular course in which they originate and be nurtured toward real-world impact. The Classroom to Community program will provide space, resources, and mentorship for teams of students designing solutions for human-centered, real-world problems. We aim to foster a culture of innovation, promote best practices in design thinking, encourage teamwork among diverse teams of students from different backgrounds, majors, departments and schools, and create a multidisciplinary communal learning environment in which students share and learn from and with each other. Our ultimate goals are to empower students to innovate effective solutions to real- world problems now and throughout their careers, inspire them to have creative confidence and personal agency, and enhance their ability to successfully invent the future, including their own life and career pathways. 

Recently, the Pittsburgh CBS News station KDKA produced and aired a “Kidsburgh” story about the collaboration between the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, Attack Theatre, and the Classroom to Community’s Vibrance project to help deaf children experience and enjoy music and dance.

The Vibrance Tactile music system – directly supported by the Personalized Education Grant – is prominently featured in the stories below.

The School of Engineering also published an article on the Vibrance Tactile music system in April.



Tyler J. Bray
Jacob Meadows