Sustainable Design in Philly: How Education Builds Our Community

Last week we continued our Philly Girls Do Good conversation series, and for the very first time, we welcomed a live audience to join the experience. The women of PGDG have so much good information to share, and we want to make their insight as accessible as possible. My fellow blogger, Sophia Lee, hatched the idea, organized the event, and led the moderated discussion. The panel included three dynamic members of the this year's PGDG class:

Morgan Berman

Morgan Berman, Co-founder and CEO of MilkCrate

Lois Brink

Lois Brink, Co-founder of The Big Sandbox

Fern Gookin

Fern Gookin, Director of Sustainability at Revolution Recovery and Founder of Recycled Artist in Residency (RAIR)

We brought together these three women at a location that has been instrumental to their design careers, Philadelphia University. All three panelists are connected to the school’s Master of Science in Sustainable Design program, with Morgan as a recent graduate and Lois as an adjunct professor. Fern is a graduate of the M.S. program and has returned to teach at her alma mater.

All three women now teach in some capacity, with Lois and Fern in a university setting and Morgan mentoring middle school students who are exploring how to make their own apps. They agreed that one of the joys of teaching is learning from and staying informed by the students. Morgan also noted that the process of setting a goal and figuring it out along the way is a universal experience that is helpful to see others repeat. Because the field of sustainability is so fast-moving, being connected to the next generation of people interested in it only strengthens everyones understanding.


One thread throughout the discussion was how an education in sustainability can be applied in the “real world” and lead to unanticipated career paths in design. The panelists reflected on what it was like to be a student figuring out how to link their varied interests in design, sustainability, community building, art, and technology. A main takeaway for the audience was that each of the women took it upon herself to craft her own path and seek out individuals who would support her interests, even if she was not yet sure where it all was heading. By continuing to take risks and enthusiastically accept unfamiliar opportunities, they have each enjoyed unique success in their careers in ways that could not have been predicted.


As the panel moderator, Sophia posed the question of “Why Philly?” We are thrilled to have these women be a part of Philly Girls Do Good and doing good work that supports our local communities, but had to ask what draws them to the city of Philadelphia. Morgan was born and raised in the area, and is happy to stick around and be a part of the tangible shift of a city getting its act together. Lois returned to her hometown of Philly after many years and is excited not only to see the improvements that have already occurred, but also be a part of a city realizing its potential. Her current work with the Philadelphia Green School Alliance aims to revitalize schoolyards across the city which would affect all current and future students and local residents.  Fern is the most recent transplant to Philly, but described its appeal as a city of do-ers. All agreed that it is a great place for people who have an idea and the drive to make them a reality.

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Everyone benefitted from the public format of the conversation, and the conversation concluded with thoughtful questions from an inspired audience, many of whom were PhilaU students and faculty. We hope to continue the momentum from this conversation and hold more events in the future which shine a light on the women leaders that make up PGDG, their paths and achievements that do good throughout Philadelphia.

Many thanks to Professor Rob Fleming, the Director of the Sustainable Design program, Professor Carol Hermann, Professor Jim Doerfler, Executive Dean Barbara Klinkhammer, Associate Dean David Breiner, and Terry Ryan at Philadelphia University for welcoming Philly Girls Do Good and making our first public conversation a great success!

Please connect to more about each of these women and other members of Philly Girls Do Good through Locus Partners' PGDG page on their website:

—Kate Rutledge