Brian Mayer

Associate Professor, Sociology
Associate Professor, Public Health
2018 CUES Distinguished Fellow

Note: Title was current at time of award and may have changed.

Using Human-Centric Design Thinking to Build Stronger Communities

This project involves the design and implementation of an engaged learning course that applies the principles of human-centric design thinking to the challenging task of creating solutions to the problem of persistent inter-generational poverty that plagues the city of Tucson. This course will build on the success of the Poverty in Tucson Field Workshop, which sees 50-60 undergraduates carry out a survey of Tucson’s low-income households and generate analyses and findings that can help Tucson’s nonprofit community improve their delivery of essential social service. The new course, Building Healthier Communities, will take those data and challenge teams of students to innovate community-based interventions that can help programs like the Tucson Fire Department’s Community Collaborative Care Program build social capital in neighborhoods facing many social problems associated with poverty.

Project Outcomes

As of Spring 2019, the Tucson Poverty Project now includes two experiential learning courses: The Poverty in Tucson Field Workshop (SOC397a) and Building Healthy Communities (CHS/SOC497a) . With support from the CUES Fellowship, the Poverty in Tucson Field Workshop now utilizes upgraded technology through individual tables in the classroom and field, which has improved the student learning experience. Also with support from CUES, some 90 students have completed the Building Healthy Communities course and directly worked with a coalition of stakeholders and residents representing the Amphi neighborhood to develop innovative solutions to the myriad social problems facing them. A new learning outcome assessment specific to experiential learning was developed, piloted, and implemented for these two courses and a generic version of the assessment has now been utilized in nine additional courses across the university that employ experiential learning components. These combined data will lead to important generalizations about the potential for improving the student learning experience through increased experiential learning opportunities and will serve as vital preliminary results for the pursuit of external grant funding to sponsor future growth of experiential learning on campus. 


Kurtin, A., Forecki, M., McAndrew, A., and Mayer, B. (2021). The Experiential Learning Design Accelerator: Integrating Human-Centered Design Thinking With Student Learning Assessment. In A. Peck & D. DeSawal (Eds.), Applying Design Thinking to the Measurement of Experiential Learning (pp. 271-287). IGI Global.

Mayer, B., Blume, A., Black, C., and Stevens, S. (2019). Improving Student Learning Outcomes through Community-based Research: The Poverty WorkshopTeaching Sociology, 47(2), 135-147.

MAY 2018: Poverty Project Focuses on Neighborhood Satisfaction, Health.  UA News, Tucson, AZ.


NOV 2019: Enhancing Student Learning Outcomes Through Experiential Learning and Human-Centered Design Thinking, CUES Inside UA-Funded Scholarship Series, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ.

2018 CUES Distinguished Fellows