Design Apprenticeship Program

Created in 2000, the Design Apprenticeship Program (DAP) builds upon the Museum’s two other outreach programs: CityVision and Investigating Where We Live. Each year, approximately 40 new and returning Outreach Program participants enroll in DAP to design and construct a project of their own conception. To date, DAP has served over 500 students between the ages of 12–18.

Two DAP programs are offered each year. Approximately 30 students each semester are provided with a design challenge, which they must complete within a set of design criteria over eight consecutive Saturdays. Students work with professional designers to develop their projects. They learn to work with different kinds of materials and are introduced to fundamental design concepts. At the end of the project their work is exhibited at the Museum.

Students must complete the fall DAP I program (only once) to continue to the spring DAP II program. This program structure supports the Museum’s effort to effectively teach design and technical skills, and to develop challenging projects for our students who continue to advance their design skills year after year.

Student Projects

DAP I: Building Blocks

During DAP I participants focused on building blocks and how they are used in design and construction. Using the Museum’s national outreach curriculum, participants learned the basics of design by exploring various building materials, methods, and design philosophies. Student design teams were challenged to design a piece of furniture with a specific set of guidelines. Teams had to identify their building blocks for the project, research and purchase materials, and build the final product by the project deadline. The program concludes with a final presentation attended by participant families and the Museum community.

DAP II: Key to Access: Mobile Learning in Museums

Using Universal Design as a focus, DAP II participants designed and constructed working prototypes of mobile learning carts for the new state-of-the-art education center currently under construction at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in Washington, D.C. Participants collaborated with staff from both museums, volunteer design professionals, and NMNH’s Youth Advisory Board (YAB) to determine the appropriate size, aesthetics, and design concept for their final projects. NMNH design staff provided critique for each design team twice during the session, at the half way point and final presentation. The prototypical carts were evaluated by the NMNH’s Youth Advisory Board, volunteers, and education staff. Feedback from the evaluations will be taken into consideration when NMNH’s contracted design team design and produce the actual carts to be used in the education center.

Community Partners

Information and applications to participate in the program are distributed to students at CityVision partner schools, through outreach program alumni, at Museum adult and family programs, through e-mails to school principals and counselors, arts organizations, and youth agencies in Washington, D.C. Each DAP session exposes students to organizations or community partners that will directly support the current design project for the semester.

Daniel Donnelly Design Studio

During the fall 2011 semester of DAP I, students had the opportunity to meet a local furniture designer, Daniel Donnelly, and tour his studio. Donnelly produces his own line of furniture and also has a show room of mid-century modern furniture.

Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH)

During the spring 2012 semester of DAP II, participants worked NMNH design and education staff, and their Youth Advisory Board (YAB) as a client. NMNH design staff met with participants three times throughout the program to introduce the project, to give feedback mid-semester on full scale prototypes, and to provide a critique of the design teams’ final products at the final presentation. The NMNH YAB met with DAP participants to share research they had done at NMNH about the current discovery carts and how volunteers and visitors used them, in addition to attending the final presentation. DAP participants traveled to NMNH to research and experience first-hand how volunteers use and visitors interact with the discovery carts.


A total of 17 volunteer instructors spent over 500 hours working with DAP students during the fall and spring semesters. These volunteers came from local professional firms and local universities.

Photos courtesy Museum staff.

Design Apprenticeship Program is supported by McGraw-Hill, Prince Charitable Trusts, and Walton|CORE Construction. Additional support for outreach programs is provided by The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation; Clark Charitable Foundation; The Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation, Inc.; Sunrise Foundation; and The Tower Companies, among others.

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