Spotlight on Service-learning: Suining Ding

Suining Ding, Ph.D., is a professor of Interior Design at Purdue Fort Wayne, and she is a lifetime scholar dedicated to curating service-learning experiences for herself, her students, and the broader community. She began integrating service-learning components into her interior design senior capstone classes 15 years ago. She became aware of the supportive training, curriculum enhancement, and network that Purdue University’s Office of Engagement (OoE) offers faculty. Through the OoE, Ding underwent a semester long training alongside a cohort of service-learning (SL) fellows to enhance her existing work at Purdue Fort Wayne.

During the Spring 2021 SL fellows program, she identified an additional community partner: Turnstone, a local nonprofit organization that offers services to people with disabilities. Turnstone wanted students to redesign part of their facility so spaces could be fully utilized. The students interviewed and worked with their client, Turnstone, under the direction of Dr. Ding. She not only prioritizes engagement with community partners but also always wants to collect project information from clients before starting the preliminary design. Through the senior capstone course that integrated the service-learning component cohesively, students transformed the space to accommodate all users. The students’ design solutions addressed acoustic issues, wayfinding performance in the space (wayfinding refers to the intuitive navigation of the space), and came up with efficient design solutions for an underutilized space.

The client was pleased to receive students’ proposed design solutions. Students then showcased their work to the public at the 2022 annual Interior Design Senior Exhibition. Dr. Ding also gave a talk titled Cohesive Integration of Service-learning Components in Interior Design Senior Capstone Studio Courses at the 2023 Interior Design Educators Council (IDEC) Annual Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. During her presentation, she spoke about her service-learning experience, curriculum map design, and how students designed the spaces for community partners, including Turnstone. Her service-learning experience and curriculum map were shared with the audience at the conference.  

Dr. Ding’s work is indicative of her values. She believes that designers can make a better world and help people through their design work. Her projects consider health & well-being, creating accessible environments for all occupants regardless of their age, ability and disability, culture and competence, and positioning students to learn while helping their community.

You have to work closely with the community partner and know what they want. Getting them involved in the process is crucial.

Suining Ding, Ph.D.

Her advice to others who incorporate service-learning into their courses is that when working with community partners, always invite them to class. A relationship between students and those they serve is necessary for a successful outcome that benefits both parties. Dr. Ding added, “And always reflect on what you’ve learned. A couple of reflective assignments, such as reflective journals could help students ponder their service-learning experience and interaction with community partners, which can benefit the learning experience.”