Colorado State interior design students promote recycling on service-learning trip

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Colorado State University is aiming to expand the programs available to students seeking international experiences to supplement their degree programs. Interior design Professor Katharine Leigh has had thirty years of experience conducting service-learning projects, often with CSU, and while she had never led an international project, she was excited about the opportunity to collaborate with the CSU campus in Todos Santos, Mexico.

A total of seven students from the interior design program traveled with the INTD 400 class for the service-learning project. The group focused on expanding the recycling program at Punta Verde, which is currently housed in a small dirt yard where piles of recyclables are stacked until they can be transported. The recycling facility is currently used almost exclusively by Americans living abroad, and the locals of Todos Santos have minimal to no experience with recycling.

Promoting recycling

The students spent their trip researching and brainstorming ways to increase use of the recycling facility. While in Todos Santos, their time was allocated to sketching, ideating, and visiting with community members such as shop owners and high school students. The high school students participated in a unique opportunity where they brainstormed recycling posters that targeted locals, then the interior design students designed actual posters based on their ideas. Engineering students from La Paz also worked with the interior design students to create interactive recycling activities.

Each of the traveling students led one or two teams of four or five students who were remaining at CSU during the trip. The projects the teams worked on included rebranding the brochures that the Todos Santos Center hands out to visitors and designing interior and interactive sections for the recycling facility based on the research conducted by on-site students. On-site students were busy from 6 a.m. to midnight on most days during the trip, also spending time at the beach during the day.

“My group was interested in finding local inspiration for simple structures which were flexible yet weather resistant to create an engaging streetscape façade to draw people in from the nearby highway and surrounding neighborhoods,” explained student Kimberly Bartlett. “Right now, the site looks like a garbage dump and we wanted to create an attractive yet economic solution to help bring new people to the site.”

One of their beach trips ended in an impactful moment for the students when Leigh took a detour to visit the local dump. “Dump is a loose term for the unregulated area where residents discard their trash,” explained Leigh. “The area spans miles of highway as well as some land at the end of the road. It’s littered with burst trash bags and various garbage that will turn up in the soil and water around Todos Santos in the coming weeks, months, and years.”

Future projects

Studying abroad can be an expensive and time-consuming experience for students, but one of the priorities for this trip was opening it to students who might not be able to find international experiences that fit their situations. The trip was less expensive and shorter than many international experiences, making it more accessible for students with time and financial constraints.

Leigh hopes the project at Todos Santos will continue with next year’s class. She imagines the students will be able to help build the shelter structures for the recycling facility and put together recycled art to decorate the area.

The Interior Design Program is part of the Department of Design and Merchandising in CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.

About the Colorado State University Todos Santos Center

Located in Baja California Sur, Mexico, CSU Todos Santos Center is the University’s only international location, providing research and educational opportunities in alignment with existing University curricula.

Advancing CSU’s mission of teaching, research, service, and outreach, the Center collaborates with Mexican universities and organizations, and provides workshops and programs for visitors and local residents.

CSU’s vision in Todos Santos is to cultivate generations of global citizens and to partner in the creation of thriving communities through experiential learning and the exchange of knowledge. For additional information, visit