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Pratt Institute and Lehigh University Students use Design to Change Perceptions of Mental Illness

September 19, 2017 | pratt.edu

A group of six Pratt students from a range of disciplines traveled to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, this summer to participate in Lehigh University’s Mountaintop Program, in which students collaborate in teams to solve problems with real-world implications. Work by one of the teams, which focused on changing perceptions of mental illness through design, was displayed in an exhibition at Manhattan’s Fountain House Gallery in August.

The Institute joined Lehigh University as a partner in the Mountaintop Program in 2016, and the partnership emphasizes the Institute’s vision of education as a way to prepare students to take on significant challenges in innovative and effective ways.

This year, Pratt students had the option of proposing team projects in addition to joining existing teams. Jennifer Brukhman’s (B.I.D. ’19) project, “Intentional Design: Addressing and Destigmatizing Mental Illness,” explored how product design can help those living with mental health issues. She and her fellow team members—Liliana Comito (B.F.A. Fashion ’19), Xiaoyu Gu (M.I.D. ’19), and Lehigh students Deanna Kocher and Caleb Leaser—developed a number of ideas, product designs, and prototypes. These include a weighted necklace that provides deep touch pressure therapy and a metronome that can be used to help regulate deep breathing exercises.

Pratt students bring expertise in art and design to the Mountaintop program, building on Lehigh University’s strong foundation in areas such as engineering. “I learned not to put myself in a box of what I can and can’t do. I learned a lot about research and the engineering side of things, which previously I had known nothing about,” said Brukhman, who plans to conduct a research study next spring about the effectiveness of the team’s products.

The “Intentional Design” project’s goal to raise awareness and change perceptions of mental illness dovetailed well with the aims of the Fountain House Gallery, which seeks to challenge the stigma around mental illness and provide an environment for artists living and working with mental illness to pursue their creative visions. The gallery exhibition, I’m Not Okay, gave the public a chance to learn about the students’ work and gave the team a unique way to celebrate the conclusion of their Mountaintop experience.

Grant Ng (A.O.S. ’18) participated in the Mountaintop project “Data, the Internet of Things and the Empowerment of Everyday Decision-Making,” which examined topics around data, journalism, civics, and technology to develop tools to help address the existing challenge of making sense of data in the new information economy. During the program, Ng had the opportunity to explore the broader impact that projects can have in society. “I witnessed how art and science can come together effectively and achieve their goal in making a difference in the world,” he said.

Hoa Ton (B.F.A. Interior Design ’18) and Esther Jang (B.F.A. Interior Design, ’18) contributed to the project “Improving the Walkability and Increasing Students’ Use of the South Side” by researching, creating, and implementing Parklets around Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. An additional component of the Pratt-Lehigh Partnership was TEK-TILES, in which students, working with Pratt’s Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator (BF+DA), explored how the fabrics in our garments can “talk” to us and each other.

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