On the evening of September 26th, representatives from the Veterans Experience Office and the New York Harbor Healthcare System (VA Hospital) came to Products of Design to participate in a group discussion around women veterans. (This semester, the Design Research and Integration class is doing a 15-week project on the issues surrounding women vets.) Topics ranged from the perception of women military in our society, to their unique needs in accessing healthcare services throughout the VA system, to stakeholder eco-system mapping—trying to identify the main players in the area, along with learning about their top needs and interactions.

“The objective of this evening session in particular was to learn about how we can have large group conversations around complex topics,” says faculty member Lawrence Abrahamson, “finding ways to build up each other’s knowledge and experiences—as a different form of ‘research.’” He adds, “It’s been amazing to work with the VA so far—we’re only a few weeks into the project—but already they have been so generous with their time and with their willingness to open up to the students.”

The partnered project started off with three unique design prompts:

How might we help women veterans "be seen" as veterans in our society and culture?

How might we help improve no-show rates at the women’s clinic?

How might we engage younger, transitioning vets to take advantage of the various health services and events at VA?

Abrahamson adds, “It’s always interesting to bring together a diverse group of experts who share the same interest, but may not have necessarily directly worked together. The mix of different perspectives can be extremely enlightening, humbling, and inspiring.” Indeed, having a woman vet in the room was critical in dispelling some of the perceptions that the students themselves had about “what a vet is”; reports one student, “I was biased for sure; this woman sat down in the group, and I didn’t think for one second that she could have even been a vet from the way she appeared.”


“Everything we do in this area is going to have a political slant; is likely to be seen through a political lens,” adds Abrahamson. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s realistic given that the VA is a governmental agency. “For instance, one particular vet was passionate about wanting to reach out and help other vets. And one of the big takeaways from the evening is that when you activate the individuals in a network, it can bypass any potential bureaucracy and have very quick and efficient results.”

We’ll update you on the progress of the project as the semester heats up, and thanks again to the VA for partnering with Products of Design!