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Design Thinking Beyond UW-Madison with CNPL Grad Molly Reddy

When Molly Reddy ’10 started her academic studies at UW-Madison, she did not know how much her life path would be impacted by design thinking and the School of Human Ecology (SoHE).  In fact, design thinking had not yet been established at the UW-Madison.

As a freshman, Reddy started as a College of Letters and Sciences student.  She quickly realized she was not as passionate for the work she was doing as she had originally planned.  After spending the summer of 2007 as an intern in Medellín, Colombia through the international student organization AIESEC working with the United Nations Development Programme’s Plan Desarme, a community education project focused on peacebuilding and violence prevention, Reddy knew she had to make a change.  Upon her return she felt committed to finding a way to pursue social impact work and with great luck, and extensive scouring of the UW course catalogue, discovered SoHE.  She shared, “I felt at home and loved the smaller classes.  I was actually absorbing the material in class.”

Molly Reddy

After graduating from SoHE with a degree in Community and Nonprofit Leadership, as well as a degree in Latin American, Caribbean, and Iberian Studies, she launched into the world by joining the Peace Corps.  “I had trouble deciding the best path to take after graduation, but with the help of mentors, including SoHE’s Marla Handy, I was inspired to join the Peace Corps. I served for 27 months as a community economic development volunteer in Paraguarí, Paraguay.”  While in Paraguay, Reddy put her CNPL degree to work.  She found herself combining her foundational knowledge and passion for youth and community development work with community-based research to understand the needs of the people in the community.

This is one of the basic premises of design thinking.  Reddy had heard of design thinking, but had no formal training before her service.  During her time in the Peace Corps, she worked with community members to reopen a 150-year-old train station. Through a community design process, and collaboration with a youth group and neighborhood commission, the train station began to function as a community and cultural center.

After returning from Paraguay, Reddy took a position in international development in Washington, DC, but felt that the work was often disconnected from the communities it was designed to serve.  Fortunately, she found a graduate program which allowed her to combine her foundation in CNPL with design thinking.  When Reddy read in the 2018 Alumni and Friend newsletter about how SoHE was taking major steps forward with design thinking initiatives, she couldn’t help but reach out to her mentors at SoHE.  Fortunately, the relationships she created while at UW-Madison are still as strong today as when she was a student.  While attending the “Better by Design” conference August 23-24  in Madison, Reddy visited with a few of her foundational mentors and met with new members of SoHE faculty to discuss her life experiences after graduation.  She shared her excitement that this work was happening at UW-Madison.

“My time in SoHE, focusing on community-based service learning and building a reflective practice, gave me the tools to succeed professionally.”

During her visit, she was thrilled to learn about the masters degree cooperative among SoHE, the Wisconsin School of Business, and the School of Engineering.  SoHE students are finding design thinking every day at SoHE and UW-Madison continues to increase investment in this area culminating in this masters degree coming to fruition.

Even though Reddy truly discovered design thinking after her time at UW-Madison, she believes the foundational knowledge at SoHE provides the framework for her both current students and fellow alumni to implement these concepts after graduation.  “My time in SoHE, focusing on community-based service learning and building a reflective practice, gave me the tools to succeed professionally.”  This, in addition to her work experience, helped her secure a position with Booz Allen Hamilton as a design strategist in Washington, DC.  She is proud to work with federal agencies to understand the unmet needs of those they serve, in order to identify opportunities for improved experiences and outcomes.  “Design thinking can be used to break down silos.” Reddy shared.  “Its power is as a tool to engage communities, re imagine systems, and truly understand challenges through the eyes of the people most affected by a problem.”



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