Anya Smith-Roman: Making School Matter

Profiles Nov 30, 2020

Originally born in NYC, Anya has lived in Atlanta most of her life. She attended Mount Vernon, one of our partners, and got exposed to design thinking with the Council On Innovation during her freshman year of high school. During this time, Anya, realized the potential impact of her work within the local community and the world at large through design thinking. She also adopted a people-centric mindset for innovation and problem solving; a core pillar of design thinking. Anya’s personal and professional mission since that time has been rooted in the question, “How might we place the student voice at the forefront of education redesign?” With her own experiences at Mount Vernon as a backdrop, she knows that education can be more than just book work. As a result, Anya seeks to transform education by unlocking the possibilities and potential for K-12 learning experiences through revamping their educational processes and systems.

As fate would have it, Jasmine Burton, happened to give a talk at Mount Vernon, when Anya was there, on the power of design thinking in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH for short) sector. This sparked Anya’s curiousity and once she began her freshman year at Georgia Tech in 2017, she discovered that she could help drive transformative education and advocacy through Wish for WASH’s Engineers Without Borders student team.

Anya's passion and design thinking prowess have made her into somewhat of a metronome for Wish for Wash's intent and purpose around design thinking for education. This has propelled her to become the Co-Director of Design Thinking and Education and the leader of a team of about ten or so people. Over the years she and Jasmine have talked about how the organization's purpose has evolved and Anya enjoys making sure they remain true to their original mission and acheive their desired impact as they continue to grow. She's excited about Wish for WASH's expanded WASH-related workshop offerings with organizations such as the Padeia School and the Weber School, which use an iterative and empathic lens approach. Wish for WASH is always looking to improve the experience of the workshops to best meet the needs of the learner in order to encourage and inspire the next generation of design thinking thought leaders in the WASH sector.

In the future, Anya is keen on educating educators differently. Rather than becoming a teacher herself, she wants to focus on being part of the strategic vision of schools to engage with the community and sustainably drive change. She hopes to consult in education, building educational processes and systems that are more closely tied to and based on specific cultures and norms. After living and studying abroad in Wellington over the past year, Anya might consider Finland for gradutate school to further develop her worldviews on transformative education on a global scale.

In her free time, she coaches gymnastics and has co-founded a student led magazine. Her magazine was based on a blog she started back in high school at Mount Vernon, which has helped her navigate through life and reflect on her path. She has a ton of experiences attending, facilitating, and speaking at conferences and in 2015, she did a MOVE talk (Moment of Visible Empathy). She ultimately wants to help learners and educators reframe how they see challenges to help design a more inclusive world around them. Anya believes any one can be a designer just by reframing the way they approach a challenge; it’s about seeing problems as opportunities. How will you approach challenges today?


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