Growth by Design

Tenn Joe Lim ’17

After three years as an undergraduate at Sarah Lawrence, Tenn Joe Lim ’17 counts among his favorite areas of study human geography (which he was introduced to by his don, Joshua Muldavin), adaptive design (the making of furniture and other objects for users with special needs), and the pedagogical theories of Paulo Freire and John Dewey. Of those influential education reformers, Lim says, “I became captivated by their concepts of dialogue and equal interaction between teachers and students.”

As his studies progressed, Lim began to wonder how he could bring to life the teaching methods he was reading about. He had assisted with two of the College’s initiatives in Yonkers: working in adaptive design at the Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center, and volunteering with the Enviro-Earth Club, which involves neighborhood youth in the Greyston Foundation’s community gardens. So he synthesized his experience and research, and pitched his idea to Davis Projects for Peace. Lim’s proposal to engage kids—both mentally and physically—in neighborhood design was selected to receive funding this summer.

Lim’s program enabled each of his Enviro-Earth Club students, who range in age from 8 to 15, to identify a need and create a small, local building project to meet that need. Using three-ply corrugated cardboard, a durable but easy-to-use material, Lim’s team of teachers and cohort of students collaboratively made items, such as chairs for a playschool and bookshelves for a library, and adapted them to their intended users.

“... These gardens have taught me about the agency we all have within communal spaces.”

Originally from Malaysia, Lim says the time he’s spent at Greyston’s gardens has shown him the potential such spaces have to teach both students and instructors. “There’s a lot of talk in the US right now about community garden programs promoting healthy living and reconnection with neighbors,” he says. “In my case, these gardens have taught me about the agency we all have within communal spaces. They’re a place where I feel integrated in this country.”

Lim wants to stress that feeling of individual empowerment with the 12 students in his project. As he wrote in his Davis application, “The project focuses on developing skills such as observation, creative thinking, and problem solving, to equip children as they explore new ideas.”

Mara Gross, director of the Anita L. Stafford Office of Community Partnerships and Service Learning, says Lim came to her on one of his first days at Sarah Lawrence. “In the years since, I’ve seen Tenn Joe really grow through his work,” she says, “and take risks to continue growing.”

Back on campus this fall, Lim co-leads the Enviro-Earth Club and continues to build adaptive equipment for the Seton Pediatric Center. He also wants to see how his summer project might snowball into winter and beyond. “Will the kids carry these practices onward? Will they have different kinds of conversations, see and analyze things differently?” he asks. “As well as being a space for connection, these gardens are always a lesson space.”