For Bethanie Martin, architecture and design is more than just buildings — it’s also about making a difference in people’s lives.

Martin, a 2016 Ball State alumna with a bachelor’s in architecture, will be a part of the 2018 Humanity in Action Fellows.

Humanity in Action (HIA) is a non-profit, non-partisan educational organization that connects students, professionals and leaders across the world to help promote human rights, diversity and active citizenship.

HIA has fellowships where students and recent graduates are selected from several countries to explore issues and histories in places of historic and educational significance.

After graduating from Ball State, Martin moved to Detroit, Michigan, to pursue a master’s in architecture and urban design at Florence Technological University.

During her time at Florence, Martin worked at the Detroit Collaborative Design Center, a non-profit architecture firm in Detroit that engages neighborhood residents in the design of urban spaces.

One of her co-workers recommended she apply to the fellowship due to Martin’s interest in the intersection of social justice and architecture, and in December, Martin applied. 

During the interview process, Martin said she wasn’t sure where should we stand against other fellows who may deal more with policy-making.

“Design still plays a huge role in issues of social justice,” Martin said. “It was really exciting to find out that I was being chosen for the fellowship and getting to participate in Warsaw.”

She said the first half of the fellowship in Warsaw will be spent having conversations on different issues and discrimination occurring in Poland. Some issues relate to the Holocaust and how it still resonates today in Polish culture, Martin said.

She said the second half will be more hands-on. The students intend to work with local government officials and non-governmental institutions. These groups will present issues to the students, so they can find practical solutions.

After the fellowship, all the students construct an action project — an open-ended project that presents what was learned in the context of interests and accomplishments of the project leader.

Olon Dotson, associate professor of architecture, said when most people are asked why they want to pursue a career in architecture it’s because they are interested in making a difference in their community.

“The majority of students see that our communities are challenged, and they would like to make a contribution to improving and confronting those challenges,” Dotson said.

Dotson played a large part in establishing a minor in social and environmental justice in the department of architecture.

Martin said her third year at Ball State with professors Dotson and Wesley Janz showed her the benefit of using design to help meet the needs of underserved people, as well as the role of design within politics and justice.

“Designers are often in environments designing hospitals and skyscrapers and houses and all these things, but we don’t often look beyond just those types of structures to how we occupy urban space, how we live our daily lives,” Martin said.

Martin said she will be part of a team of 24 students from the United States, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Netherlands, Poland and Ukraine going to Warsaw, Poland from June 8 to July 8.

She said she will be receiving more information on the specifics of the fellowship within the coming weeks and is excited to see who she will be talking to while in Poland.

“Being able to come together and be like, ‘We’re going to have this open conversation. We’re going to make it possible to cross political boundaries, to cross national boundaries to see how we can make for more positive places for people to live,’ I think is kind of the big overarching goal of the program and what becomes the most exciting,” Martin said.

Contact Andrew Harp with comments at or on Twitter @adharp24.