Grad student serving community with design

| Editor-in-chief

Genevieve Hay | Student Life

De Andrea Nichols, a student in the Brown School of Social Work, speaks about her CGI U commitment, D* Serve, at a press conference facilitated by Chelsea Clinton. D* serve aspires to educate disadvantaged youth in design, entrepreneurship, and civic leadership.


Washington University graduate student De Andrea Nichols is working hard to give disadvantaged youths the jump-start she yearned for as a child.

Nichols, one of eight students representing five universities and projects, spoke at a press conference with Chelsea Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative University conference on Saturday afternoon. Like other students attending the conference, she used the time to communicate and interact with other students and world leaders in similar fields.

“I hope that [the delegates] will leave more confident—that they will be able to translate their ideas into actions. [I hope that] they will have met people here who will help them think about the challenges they are trying to tackle in new ways,” Clinton said.

Nichols, a 2010 graduate of the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts and now a first-year graduate student in the Brown School of Social Work, founded D*Serve, a program that aims to give kids in the Hyde Park community in Missouri training in design and entrepreneurship.

“D*Serve equips youth with a design-based social and economic and entrepreneurial education within their communities to be able to identify the issue they are facing as well as creating the solution that can provide sustainable change,” Nichols said.

Students in Hyde Park participating in D*Serve will attend weekend sessions that will focus on developing skills in leadership, business development and design initiatives.

“With our vision for this project, we see that our communities can become our classrooms, that our peers can become our professors,” Nichols said.

Nichols grew up in the small town of Cleveland, Miss., a place she said “could not be found on a map.” She spoke about witnessing her single mother make sacrifices for her and her older brother’s well-being.

“I’m someone who is very aware of the privileges I’ve been afforded. A big part of that is growing up, living in rural America, my life was completely opposite of what it is now,” Nichols said. “My family lived on a street that was not paved.”

The humble beginnings inspired Nichols to found D*Serve in her hometown. There, she worked on connecting the youth in her area to elders.

“I remember as a kid always being a creator. I just had to creatively express myself. From those moments, a lot of ideas started churning,” Nichols said. “Now it’s a matter of living my life to actualize a lot of these ideas to assure myself that my hometown community—that other children—won’t have to suffer some of the same things I went through.”

After graduating from the University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in communication design, Nichols turned her focus to St. Louis City this September.

“In the City of St. Louis, many of the neighborhoods here are plagued by vacancy, residential dilapidation. These things can have negative effects on communities and the children living within them,” Nichols said. “D*Serve strives to change this and challenge what we can do.”

Nichols said the project has lifted her to new heights in her personal and professional life. She has been working with several organizations throughout the city, primarily the Rebuild Foundation.

Over spring break, Nichols traveled to Furman University to deliver a TEDxTalk, where she called her experiences at Washington University “fundamental” in her journey.

“A lot of it started when I was an undergraduate. The team that operates D*Serve, Catalysts by Design, [features] a lot of alumni from Wash. U.,” Nichols said. “The manifesto that sparked Catalysts by Design was created at the Sam Fox School of Design as an assignment, and we took that design manifesto and design project and ran with it.”

On April 27, Nichols and Catalysts by Design will celebrate Global Youth Service Day in the Hyde Park community with a series of service projects focused on engaging the neighborhood.