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Design for Health group awarded $70k grant to assess housing needs of elderly in WNC

By Julia Duvall


Housing is one of the biggest factors affecting quality of life and health, especially for older adults experiencing poverty in rural Western North Carolina.

This issue was at the forefront of several Western Carolina University faculty members’ minds when they decided to combine their areas of expertise to create the Design for Health initiative at the end of 2019.

“The purpose of D4H is to leverage the expertise of our researchers and practitioners from interior design, social work, sociology, business and environmental health to identify health and wellness challenges and prioritize needs through housing assessments,” said Amy Murphy-Nugen, associate professor in WCU’s social work program and co-principal investigator for the American Society of Interior Designers Transform Grant.

The $70,000 ASID grant will support the group’s resilient and age-inclusive design assessment framework project that will be used to evaluate the social determinant of health outcomes of older adults in WNC.

The group was just beginning the preliminary research and data gathering when the pandemic hit in early 2020, hindering their initial launch of the program. But now in 2023, the group is ready to hit the ground running and make a difference in the lives of those who need safer housing and a strengthened quality of life.

Murphy-Nugen, along with Shelby Hicks, assistant professor in the School of Art and Design and co-principal investigator for the grant, are joined by WCU faculty members Yue Hillon, professor in the School of Economics, Management and Project Management, and Yiqing Yang, assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology.

“This grant will help us with the RAD assessment and recognize the expertise in our community,” Hicks said. “We will be able to identify the strengths and what is already working in this region and what we can help make recommendations on.”

WCU students across multiple disciplines are also helping with the research and data assessments through stipend positions created by the grant.

“Our students started off by attending community listening sessions and transcribed those conversations for us to dive into at our retreat,” Hicks said. “Students were able to review the data and make suggestions and help to create new holistic assessments of the housing needs of our neighbors.”

Murphy-Nugen and Hicks expressed sincere appreciation to George Brown, dean of the David Orr Belcher College of Fine and Performing Arts; Lori Anderson, dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences; AJ Grube, dean of the College of Business; and David Kinner, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, for their support of this initiative.

Community members and service providers are invited to attend the D4H open house on Tuesday, Jan. 24, from 4-6 p.m. in room 204 of WCU’s Health and Human Sciences Building. Preliminary findings of the community listening sessions will be shared and interested community members may apply to serve on the Resilient, Age-inclusive Design committee.

For more information about D4H or the open house, contact Hicks at or Murphy-Nugen at

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