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UC and Hughes Students “Step Up” for Unique Shoe Design Collaborative

The TREAD project, a creation of UC design students, is making an impression with 25 Hughes STEM High School students. The project brings together UC students and designers from top shoe firms to guide the high schoolers in creating their own shoe designs – while gaining critical thinking and technical skills.

Date: 5/15/2011 12:00:00 AM
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Provided by TREAD project

UC ingot   Footwear can serve as the foundation for valuable academic, professional and personal life lessons.
The TREAD project is proving that.
Founded by three students from the University of Cincinnati’s nationally and internationally top-ranked industrial design program, the project harnesses the creativity as well as the complex problem solving and technical skills required to design shoes in order to teach students within Hughes STEM High School, an urban school devoted to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Three UC student founders of TREAD
The three UC student founders of TREAD. From left are Charley Hudak, Vanessa Melendez and Jince Kuruvilla.

One of the program’s founders is UC industrial design senior, Charley Hudak, of Pittsburgh, Pa. He explained, “Shoes are actually an exacting product to design and create. But it’s also a product that instantly gets young people excited, due to the cachet and prominence associated with shoe brands. So, they’re the perfect vehicle for introducing students to critical thinking skills, technology (shoes are actually designed on the computer using various software programs) and challenge.”
So, in other words, while the focus is on academics, integrating the academics with footwear makes for a quick step to success.

Said Hudak, “The students are already conscious of the footwear industry. They’re really aware of footwear, name brands and status. Now, we’re looking at the technology behind it.”
The spring course will culminate in each high schooler creating his or her own shoe design in the form of a three-dimensional model. Those models will then be exhibited June 7-11 in UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) as part of “DAAPworks,” an end-of-year exhibit featuring work by graduating students in the college.
Hudak, along with fellow seniors Vanessa Melendez and Jince Kuruvilla, originated the TREAD (Teaching Responsibility and Empowerment to Aspiring Designers) Project, and the three UC students lead the project three days a week at Hughes. Along the way, they’ve also received help and assistance from about 30 of their classmates as well as UC design faculty. Hughes faculty – specifically Danielle Battle – have provided significant support to the project and class.  
The seven-week program runs through May 25, with the UC students working with the Hughes Hight STEM sophomores as part of a required college capstone project. However, the three UC design students plan to continue the project after their June 2011 graduation, and they are incorporating TREAD as a non-profit organization.
A Hughes student participating in the TREAD project.
A Hughes student participating in the TREAD project.

The three also arrange for professional shoe designers from leading footwear companies to come into the Hughes class. So far, visitors have included or will include:
  • E. Scott Morris, design director of core performance, and Howard Lichter, creative outreach, NIKE, Inc., and Tom De Blasis, design director of NIKE Football (soccer).
  • Michael Schaeffer, creative director overseeing all design at Reebok International Ltd. and Chris Pope, Design Manager in Lifestyle catergory at Reebok.
  • Al Van Noys, director of innovation; Rob Lee, vice president of design. performance; and Nick Staub, senior designer, all with adidas Group.
  • Elliott Curtis, co-founder of street-fashion company, vitaminTHICK, and of  Sneakerology 101, a course that explores the extensive impact sneakers have on fashion, identity, and popular culture. 
  • Erik Hernandez, designer II, VANS, Inc., shoe and apparel company.
  • Sean Scott, chief shoemaker, TOMS Shoes. 
  • D’Wayne Edwards, founder of PENSOLE and former design directory, Jordan Brand.
    A Hughes student participating in the TREAD project.
    A Hughes student participating in the TREAD project.

Recruiting such high-profile professionals has been fairly easy, according to the UC students. One reason is the strong ties UC’s industrial design program has with industry because of the university’s vaunted cooperative education program and because so many UC graduates work in the footwear field.
Stated Hudak, “Before I even entered UC, I went around the states looking for internships the summer after my first year at another design school. Everywhere I went in the industry, I found UC grads working and leading the field. That’s why I ultimately came to UC.”
And while a student here, Hudak has co-opped at footwear firms KEEN, Inc., Reebok, K-Swiss Inc., and Under Armour, Inc. Co-op or cooperative education is the practice wherein students alternate quarters or semesters in the classroom with quarters or semesters of professionally paid work directly related to their majors. Co-op had its global founding at UC, and the university today houses the largest co-op program at any public university in the United States. UC’s co-op program is also ranked in the nation’s top ten by U.S. News & World Report.
Similarly, Melendez has co-opped at Procter & Gamble Co. and will work full time for the company after graduation, while Kuruvilla has co-opped at global design consultancy Continuum in Boston, Mass., market research firm SonicRim in Columbus, Oh., and Project H Design, a San Francisco-based non-profit that delivers life-changing products to the Third World.

Additional links related to the TREAD project: