Rice Design for America
Design Innovation for Social Good

Harvey Relief

Team Harvey Relief


The Team

Lead - Jeffrey Xiong, McM '18, Computer Science
likes taking pictures of squirrels, sketching strangers on subways, and reading sci-fi
Cesar Soto, Lovett '18, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
likes playing soccer, watching sports, fishing, and food
Eri Zhong, Lovett '18, Cognitive Science
loves spicy food and documentaries
Kaarthika Thakker, Lovett '20, Computer Science
passionate about solving problems and shaping her community
Nitin Srinivasan, Hanszen '21, Psychology
sings a cappella and likes listening to hip hop and R&B music

The Problem

 Highway 59 during Harvey (Houston, TX)

Highway 59 during Harvey (Houston, TX)

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Rice organized an impromptu volunteer response, allowing students to go out into the Houston community and give back while school was cancelled. The volunteer response, termed R-HAT (Rice Harvey Action Team), was formed from varying student leadership organizations (Student Association and Graduate Student Association), as well as official Rice departments (Doerr Leadership Institute, and Center for Civic Leadership), but left out some crucial stakeholders, and was planned and organized spontaneously, with no official guiding processes or plan. Thus, we were tasked with the following problem - how can we improve the volunteer response at Rice, in the event of another disaster or crisis?

Design Process


Our problem space started very un-scoped. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, we had experienced a lot of inefficiencies in the volunteer process. Some of us had volunteered during the hurricane, and some of us hadn’t. We picked 6 broad problem spaces to explore that related to the effective and consistent use of volunteers:

  1. Volunteer Experience Level
  2. Transportation & Logistics
  3. Volunteer Training
  4. Volunteer Experience
  5. Volunteer Selection / Recruitment
  6. Distribution of Information
  7. Taking advantage of the college system (Presidents, CJs)

We know from our research that there is a large surge of “spontaneous” volunteers after a natural disaster and that organizing these volunteers is logistically difficult. We also learned that inefficient volunteer organization can lead to volunteer disatisfaction that keeps volunteers from volunteering again because they believe that donating their time isn’t helpful. Hopefully, we can use our interviews to narrow our scope and figure out a Rice specific issue to tackle.


So far, we’ve created interview questions and templates to ask our users and experts, so that we can continue to gather insights and develop a better understanding of our problem space. We have also sent out emails to experts either in volunteering, or who were involved with organizing R-HAT, Rice’s volunteer initiative in the wake of Harvey, in order to understand the entire process of volunteering and how to best improve it.

Experts we’ve identified:

  • Jerusha Kasch, Rice Crisis Management
  • Dr. Caroline Quenemoen, Associate Dean
  • Dr. Dan Wallach, Professor in Computer Science
  • Dr. Stephen Klineberg, Kinder Institute
  • Dr. Robert Stein, Professor in Political Science
  • Sonia Torres, RSVP and CCL
  • Navya Kumar, CCL
  • Ariana Ingles, SA Senator

We conducted interviews with many of those experts, and synthesized the following key insights:

(Todo: Add Key Insights)


Through all our research and interviews, we managed to narrow down our problem space to three primary areas, expressed as How-Can-We statements.

  1. HCW enable and support Rice students that want to consistently volunteer?
  2. HCW train and keep track of Rice volunteers so that we can deploy them effectively in the event of a crisis?
  3. HCW build consistent relationships between Rice and outside organizations to improve communication, organization, and overall volunteer experience?