Sustainability and Green Design: Richmond’s James River
Sustainability and Green Design: Richmond’s James River

This project tasked students with designing a board game and accompanying lesson plans focused on sustainability issues involving the James River that could be distributed to area middle school teachers and students. Right now, an official prototype of the game is being developed for testing.

Student researchers: Justin Bond (B.S. ’13/En); Gabrielle Mormile (B.F.A. ’12/A); Benjamin White (B.I.S. ’13/H&S; Cert. ’13/B; B.S. ’13/En)

Faculty mentor: Ramana Pidaparti, Ph.D., professor, VCU Department of Mechanical Engineering

White: The game and lesson plans are based on sustainability practices that Richmond has in place right now, so we did a lot of research into sustainable practices in general and specifically into the James River itself. When we were designing it, to make the game fun so people would want to replay it, we had to brainstorm and play around with different strategies and designs and game pieces, which was great. I had a lot of fun working on it. We’ve been in talks with the Office of Sustainability at VCU about producing prototypes to send to schools and see what teachers can do with it, so it’s really exciting to see something like that happening.

Mormile: I feel lucky that Dr. Pidaparti wanted an interdisciplinary approach to this project because I think it really helped me with group work in a lot of ways. I think that’s a struggle for a lot of people, too. It helped that the people I was working with were as determined and motivated and intelligent as I’d hope to consider myself.

Bond: I thought the project might suffer from so many different viewpoints, but it was very heartening to see people from different disciplines somehow coming together and thinking. It turns out that whether you’re a mechanical engineer, an engineering professor or an art student, you still don’t know how to make a board game, so it was a bit foreign to all of us. Our weekly meetings were supposed to be only an hour, but it would go two or three in most cases because we had so many good ideas going that we didn’t want to stop.

Pidaparti: When I was developing the project, I wanted to attract students not just from engineering but also other disciplines. I wanted to build the group so each student could contribute something different, and I wanted to do something specific to Richmond. We met every week and brainstormed together, and I think they did a really good job. There are strategy and educational components to the game, so it’s a fun way to learn about sustainability.

I work with a lot of interdisciplinary groups, and I feel that two brains are better than one. Each person can bring a different perspective, and the outcome will definitely be better for it. This kind of exposure to the research process, to working in a team and independently, is one of the best opportunities at VCU right now. The process of curiosity and discovery is exciting.