A Documentary: Lives Not Grades

A Documentary: Lives Not Grades

“How can we, as designers, have an impact in our changing world?” 

This is a question often posed by design professionals, and especially by our next generation of architects and designers. This week, Duet announced that Lives Not Grades has been released — a documentary that features Duet’s founding story and vividly illustrates what can be done.

A Story for a Generation Hungry for Impact and Change

Five student-led innovations. The worst refugee camp on earth. A team of USC college students travels to Moria Camp in Greece, known as ‘the worst refugee camp on earth,’ to design and build innovations that can improve the lives of the refugees fleeing wars and natural disasters.

From the USC Viterbi School of Engineering:

“When people think about mitigating global crises, they naturally turn to politicians, diplomats, and overstretched humanitarian agencies. No one turns to college students for the answers. This film challenges that. It asks the question, ‘what if we used the same passion and intellect that went into designing the iPhone and self-driving cars to solve the greatest challenges of our time? What if that’s what we taught in schools?’

“At its heart, Lives Not Grades is a dramatic, thrilling, and inspirational story embedded in geopolitical events. It is an honest look at the innovation process, the importance of learning from failure, and the role of education itself in a time when educational models are being challenged.

“Witness the crisis through the eyes of the students as they race against the clock, their own fears and shortcomings in tackling what has been described as ‘the greatest humanitarian crisis since WW2.’ Through an intimate lens — in a way that humanitarian crisis and college courses have not yet converged on film — the film appeals to Gen-Z’ers empowered to spark change.

“It facilitates a timely conversation about the role of engineering, technology, education, and young people in addressing wicked problems. The filmmakers hope to create a synergy between the film and existing campaigns around tech for good, forced migration, social entrepreneurship, youth advocacy, and innovation.”

From the Viterbi Magazine, Spring 2019

Innovation in Engineering Design for Global Challenges, offered through the Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is the first of its kind at USC and, as of this writing, at any engineering school in the nation. It takes graduate and undergraduate students from a variety of disciplines, puts them in teams, and sends them to hotspots throughout the world to design and engineer solutions to global crises in chaotic environments. The teams have just two semesters and $6,000 each to tackle such problems as improved sanitation, shelters, electricity, mental health, education, access to information and security.”

The documentary is available on local PBS stations through June 8, 2021, and also on-demand via KCET.

Watch the Full Video

About Duet

Their Mission:

“Duet rekindles the humanity in both giving and receiving by connecting donors with vulnerable populations in a more dignified, efficient and personal way.

The Impact of their Work:

“Duet feels small but thinks big. Currently, our operations are focused in Lesvos, Greece, where we have partnered with an arm of the UNHCR to help support resettled refugee families arriving from all over the world. Already our impact has been meaningful.”


We learned about the documentary via LinkedIn, thanks to Lucas Hu and Dr. David Gerber, a Co-Producer and Associate Professor of Practice, Program Director, at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles.

Featured image from Viterbi Magazine, Spring 2019.

Thank you so much for sharing this with all of us.

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