15 Years of Faculty Engagement: Stella Hernandez

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Stella Hernandez March 9, 2016

Drop by Drop:

Stella-Hernandez_headshot-331x335In 2009, SAFE Agua Chile became a groundbreaking collaboration between Designmatters and the organization Un Techo Para mi Pais. My first project with Designmatters as a student came out of this collaboration, and is called Gota a Gota (Drop by Drop). I knew very little then about how this first drop would create a ripple effect, followed by a cascade of change. Some of the projects became a reality for the families in the slums of Chile, the studio won many design prizes, and our prototypes made it all the way to the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum collection – but most importantly, the ripples of change started to spread out.

I graduated shortly after the studio, but the ties with the project and the people involved remained strong. The path was created and two additional SAFE Agua studios took place in Peru and Colombia, in 2011 and 2013, respectively. I joined the project in Colombia as part of the research team, and this time around there was a more personal connection. I was going back to my home country but to see a different reality and a face of the city where I grew up that I never saw before. I realized then that my vision of the world was different, and that Designmatters experiences empowered me to create change around – and impact – other people’s lives. Not only people living in other places of the world but also the ones closer to me.


Stella at Coaniquem headquarters in Chile, with the SafeNiños students.

After these experiences with SAFE Agua, I joined the business school at USC to teach a class where students from different disciplines want to learn from this design process to make impactful products. These projects were generated for local communities in need that are as close as a short drive within the city of Los Angeles. Six years after that first studio, I am part of the faculty team for SAFE Niños studio, taking place this term at ArtCenter, and I traveled back to Chile with a new generation of students to see a new start. During this research trip, and every time I am sharing with the students in class, I think about the seeds of change that are already flourishing there.

The energy of that first drop pulled me in a new direction as a designer, and I truly believe that brought me to a better understanding of what I can do for others. I am sure this is an effect that Designmatters has multiplied for everyone involved on each of the projects and I am more than grateful for being part of this reaching effect.


Stella Hernandez holds a B.S., from ArtCenter College of Design and a B.A.,  from Xavier University Bogota, Colombia. She is an industrial and environmental Designer and the owner of StellaH Design.

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