High School Students Complete CADC’s Virtual Shoe Design Workshop

Shoe Design by Riley Abston

With classroom visits impossible because of COVID-19, Katherine Buck Chastain, Administrator of Recruitment for AU’s College of Architecture, Design and Construction (CADC), needed a different way to connect with prospective students. She developed a new approach to outreach and recruitment in partnership with industrial design Assistant Professor Ben Bush, and the result of their collaboration was an innovative workshop focused on shoe design.

Bush and Chastain wanted to work with high school students interested in the design field by offering something that would enhance teachers’ existing lesson plans. They held five virtual workshops in three different schools last fall, visiting with students studying graphic design, engineering design technology and computer science. “All of these students have shown an interest in creating and designing,” Chastain explained. “We wanted to bring the design studio experience to these students as they are trying to consider where they may fit post-high school.”

Why the focus on shoes? “Many of our faculty at Auburn choose projects that are focused around students’ interests, so we wanted to take a similar theme to high school classrooms,” Bush explained. He worked with industry partners Quentin Williams, founder of the basketball shoe firm Q4 Sports, Brett LaCour, associate shoe designer at luxury goods brand Cole Hahn, and Zaneta Horne, advanced footwear designer at Adidas. They helped Bush to create a lesson by offering their insights on the industry and the design decisions students would need to consider like color, material, finish and tread patterns.

After working with teachers to determine how the shoe workshop would fit best within their curriculum, Bush and Chastain met with high school students virtually to introduce the topic in a studio setting. They supplied design templates and materials and then asked students to design a shoe for a celebrity like Cardi B, Steph Curry or Lin-Manuel Miranda. Bush, Chastain and several CADC Student Ambassadors reviewed the results with students and were overwhelmed by the quality of the designs they received. “They were so good,” said Bush. “I’m still hyped up on how impressive the designs were. Within a 24 hour turnaround these students were doing work that I would call junior level. It’s like, get these students in here as quickly as you can!” Caroline Reed, a teacher at New Century Technical High School in Huntsville, said her students responded well to the workshop. “They enjoyed the brainstorming session, and I loved that they could see Ben’s work virtually as he made lists and sketched concepts,” she said. “It’s one of the best activities we’ve done during this school year!”

Chastain felt the workshop was a great opportunity to reach students who may not normally have access to a design classroom. “We know there are talented aspiring designers in the state of Alabama,” she said. “It’s just a matter of finding them.” Chastain and Bush hope to continue to provide design studio experiences to even more high school students through their innovative shoe design workshops.