Ypsi-based program helps students solve problems from ice-cream drips to parent-child communication

Local elementary, middle, and high school pupils will have a chance to design solutions to everyday problems during the Dare 2 Design program, held weekly at SPARK East, 215 W. Michigan Ave. in Ypsilanti, starting Oct. 18.

The program's founders are two Eastern Michigan University (EMU) professors, Muhammad Sohail Ahmed and Shiri Vivek. Vivek teaches new product development, while Ahmed teaches design thinking in engineering.

Vivek says that pupils will pick a problem to solve during the first session. Then, using an eight-step curriculum, they'll work with engineers, entrepreneurs, and professors to come up with a solution and make a prototype. Groups are capped at about 15 participants so the students can get more one-on-one attention from their mentors.

"It can be any problem, from forgetting to shut off a light to cleaning the oceans of plastic, or anything in between," Vivek says.

Vivek says the Dare 2 Design program has been running since early 2020, but hosting it at SPARK East this year is new. Vivek says that's a "great thing" because students will be able to meet entrepreneurs who work at SPARK and learn about their solutions to their own challenges.

At the end of the program, pupils will have a chance to pitch their solution during the annual EMUiNVENT convention in March. Winners of that competition have an opportunity to move up to the state level and national level of the Invention Convention.

Vivek says past Dare 2 Design projects have ranged from using technology to detect concussions to creating solar stoves for developing countries to an "ice cream catcher cookie."

"The problem was that the ice cream spilled from the cone, so they created something to put under the cone so the ice cream would not fall on them," she says. 

Vivek says one young participant wanted to solve the problem of parent-child communication, and Vivek wondered if that challenge wasn't suitable for the after-school program. But after discussion with mentors, she came up with the idea for a mobile app that would help reduce misunderstandings and increase clear communication between kids and parents.

Vivek says one of the program's goals is to help children expand their ideas about what's possible for them to do as adults. She says studies have shown that young children are more open to new ideas. However, as they grow up, they limit their own future possibilities to the careers they see their families and neighbors going into.

"The problem is that now the professions are changing," Vivek says. "None of the professions are going to remain what they are in the next 10 years. We figured that most important during this time is to tell them there are so many other possibilities." 

The program offers separate cohorts for grades 2-5, 6-8, and 9-12. Sign-up for pupils in grades 2-5 is available here and sign-up for 6th- to 12th-graders is available here.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

Photos courtesy of Shiri Vivek.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.