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This semester, students from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s School of Interior Architecture will engage fifth- and sixth-grade students at a local middle school to address diversity in the profession, with support from a $72,000 grant from the Angelo Donghia Foundation. The grant is funding the creation of the Engaging Youth to Make Interactive Experience (EYMIE) Lab, a mobile lab and library equipped with tools and technology for design and making, as well as design/build installations that benefit local communities.

Throughout the semester, UT students will design the mobile design lab in collaboration with the young students at Lenoir City Intermediate/Middle School, a Title I STEM-designated school in Tennessee, to introduce them to design and participate together in design/build projects.

Students tour the Fabrication Lab with a UT College of Architecture and Design guide.
Students tour the Fabrication Lab with a UT College of Architecture and Design guide.

“Using the EYMIE Lab, our students will not only serve their own quest to become inclusive and highly competent designers, but they also will introduce underserved youth in our region to the power of design to address human need,” said Milagros Zingoni Phielipp, director of the School of Interior Architecture. “Professor David Matthews will lead the first semester, and throughout fall our students will be exposed to the first design/build studio in the School of Interior Architecture. We’ll gain global competency, expose students to fabrication, and explore the expanded field of interior architecture with a long-term goal of increasing diversity in the profession.”

Through the collaborative program, youth are exposed to the power of design to change the world, and their creative energy is sparked as they begin to consider an education and career in design. Research indicates that many youth self-select out of design disciplines before they enter high school, so exposing them at an early age can begin to reverse that trend and ultimately address diversity in higher education and the design professions.

Milagros Zingoni Phielipp
Zingoni Phielipp

“The challenge ahead of us is to shape well-rounded designers who are empathetic, inclusive, and collaborative risk takers while they master the technology-related skills the profession requires,” said Zingoni. “Through this funded project and our curriculum, we expose students to the philosophy of ‘learning by making’ through the complete design process as they gain cultural competency by engaging in the world around them.”

Taking advantage of the strong correlation between learning and making, UT students and faculty will lead the middle-school students to use tools and technology in the mobile lab to design and fabricate for public exhibition. Large-scale fabrication aspects of the project will be completed in the College of Architecture and Design’s Fab Lab, a 20,000-square-foot maker space equipped with state-of-the-art digital fabrication equipment.

For more than 20 years, the Angelo Donghia Foundation has supported students’ learning experiences in interior architecture. The three-year grant was awarded in July and will enable the School of Interior Architecture to partner with various community schools through 2024.

The unique effort will expand the college’s design/build program to include emerging technologies that promote discovery and interaction through sensors and electronics platforms. The technology, which includes motion sensors, pressure sensors, motion trackers and other devices, will be used to design and build interactive experiences.


Lindsey Owen (865-974-6375,

Amanda Johnson (865-974-6401,