The UC San Diego Pepper Canyon Mobility Hub Designathon was a weekend of planning, creativity, and true hands-on learning for more than 230 students. At a university where traditional hackathons and engineering competitions are the norm, the Designathon was a unique opportunity for students interested in planning, design, and transportation.

 SANDAG, the regional planning agency for San Diego, is responsible for the implementation of all nine stations on the Blue Line Trolley Extension. However, SANDAG delegated all planning and design responsibilities for the Pepper Canyon Station to UCSD Campus Planning. With special funds allocated for education from the Federal Transit Authority, SANDAG partnered with UCSD’s Design Lab to sponsor the engagement of high school, undergraduate, and graduate students in the planning and design process.

In January of this year, The Design Lab contacted us, Young Planners’ Society, at UC San Diego and the event creation process began. As the APA Planning Student organization for UCSD, we are always searching for hands-on experience for our members. Last August, the Young Planners’ Society began discussing a small design charrette to engage students in planning, and with the opportunity provided by both SANDAG and the Design Lab, this idea evolved into a complex, weekend-long event meant to generate ideas, engage students, encourage interdisciplinary collaboration, and provide mentor opportunities for professionals throughout the region.

In just three months, the event was planned and ready. Large white tents were staged on Warren Mall, a large open space just east of Geisel Library. The event began promptly at 9 AM on Saturday, April 6th as students arrived and quickly filled the tables with their teams. At 10 AM, students were welcomed by Congressman Scott Peters (D-52), Senior Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Robert Continetti, and leaders from SANDAG, Campus Planning, and the Design Lab. With breakfast in hand, the students began working.

Throughout the event, the student participants were supported by a large array of mentors who checked in with teams, helped them craft and articulate their ideas, and provided helpful industry and career knowledge. The more than 50 mentors came from throughout the region from both the private and public sector and gave up their time on a weekend to guide students’ learning – it was an inspiring sight.

As Saturday came to a close, it was clear that the wide variety of student backgrounds was contributing to a unique array of project ideas. We had students from more than 15 different majors represented – Engineers, Cognitive Scientists, Visual Artists, Planners, and more. The Designathon team-formation process grouped these students together based on shared interests and talents and resulted in interdisciplinary teams capable of handling the concept creation process in just 24 hours.

Sunday began once again at 9 AM with breakfast and some inspiring words from Kim Kawada, the Chief Executive Director of SANDAG. With guidance from mentors, teams began the process of preparing their concepts for presentation. The judging panel consisted of Antoinette Meier (SANDAG), Raeanon Hartigan (Campus Planning), Mirle Rabinowitz-Bussell, Ph.D. (UCSD Urban Studies and Planning Faculty), Michele Morris (UCSD Design Lab), and Matthew Anton (Event Sponsor – Lime).

At 5 PM, teams began the first rounds of presentation to the judging panel. Finalists were selected and presented to the entire event just after dinner. The results of the Designathon were spectacular. The winning teams created systems to help the disabled, to create socially engaging spaces on campus, to revolutionize the way students purchase food, to provide efficient wayfinding for all, and to create mobility on an epic scale. As the competition came to a close, Poway Mayor and SANDAG Board Chair Steve Vaus thanked the students for their time and efforts and cake was served to all.