Aligning With the New School
In 1970, Parsons joined The New School (then called The New School for Social Research), a renowned institution of progressive thinking.
The New School had been founded in 1919 by a group of prominent progressive scholars including Charles Beard, John Dewey, James Harvey Robinson, and Thorstein Veblen. In planning their school, these distinguished intellectuals envisioned a center for instruction and counseling for mature men and women. They planned it as an alternative to traditional universities, with an open curriculum, minimal hierarchy, and free discussion of controversial ideas. In 1933, The New School for Social Research gave a home to the University in Exile, a refuge for scholars forced from Europe by the Nazis. In 1934, the University in Exile was incorporated into The New School for Social Research as the Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science.
The merger with The New School provided Parsons with new resources to expand its education offerings. The move also strengthened the connection between academic knowledge and social activism. In 1977, for example, the establishment-defying New Museum of Contemporary Art showed its first exhibition, Early Works by Five Contemporary Artists, at The New School.
Emphasis on Design Thinking
Today The New School and Parsons are committed to employing design thinking as a way to help solve complex global problems. At the India China Institute, for example, scholars, cultural practitioners, and activists from across the university grapple with urban planning, learning technologies, international collaboration, and other pressing issues facing China, India, and the United States. At PetLab and The Center for Transformative Media, research fellows and faculty promote public interest engagement through transformative media practices such as gaming, social networking, creative mobility, data mining, and participatory learning.
Projects with community, industry, educational, and government partners often emphasize tangible outcomes. Since 1998, The Design Workshop has provided pro bono design-build services to deserving nonprofit clients. Since 2001, students have worked with the Open Society Institute's Public Health Program to help health-related nongovernmental organizations – including the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa – develop communications plans, facilitate training, and devise effective implementation strategies. More recently, using a "designing with" model, Parsons partnered with The Fortune Society to develop services to help previously incarcerated individuals re-enter society and build fulfilling lives.