Raised in Morley, Michigan, with a population of just over 500 residents, Isabella Waite grew up with a sense of “sustainability.” Her parents, HomeWorks Co-op members, made a habit of composting and they also line-dried their laundry outdoors—which they continue to do to this day. When Waite went off to study product design at Western Michigan University (WMU) in Kalamazoo, she took those sensibilities with her.
“I was really involved in fine arts in high school,” said Waite. “I didn’t know what that could look like in a career for me until I toured Western and the product design program director explained how design could be used to help people, even make a difference in the world.”
As a member of an electric cooperative, Waite was familiar with the benefits of more sustainable energy sources and the opportunities available to her as a member. Waite was a member of Youth Tour, a group of around 1,800 high school co-op members from around the country who travel to Washington, D.C., to experience the monuments, memorials, museums, and all the history the country’s capital has to offer. It ends with students meeting their state senators and representatives and watching Capitol business unfold in real time.
“It was a life-changing trip for me,” said Waite. “I was super introverted and anxious around strangers in high school, but meeting all these new people from around the country was suddenly exciting and not scary anymore.”
Waite took that new confidence and not only applied to WMU, which is in a much larger city than her hometown, but applied for scholarships to help her on her educational journey. Waite received one of HomeWorks’ educational scholarships, helping her to get started at school.
“It was actually one of the staff members who went with us on Youth Tour that told me about the HomeWorks scholarships,” said Waite. “It’s amazing how much scholarships helped me as I was beginning college.”
The financial assistance allowed Waite to delve into her degree in product design. One of her courses had, as part of its syllabus, an assignment to develop a houseware product and submit it to the Student Design Competition sponsored by the International Housewares Association (IHA). This international competition seeks to “invigorate” the housewares industry with innovative student designs and encourages careers in the industry. Waite was inspired by her summer job as a nanny and saw the stress and difficulty the family she worked for was having with potty training their son. Waite herself wasn’t sure how to help, but with her skills in product design and an eagerness for her work to help people, she designed Pip the Potty Pal. Pip assists adults in toilet training toddlers while making the breaks fun for the children. It went from an idea, to a design, to winning third place at the Global Innovation Awards and having her design displayed at the annual Inspired Home Show.
“A big part of product design is studying the behavior of your consumer,” said Waite. “Kids are just so interesting to observe, and figuring out what they need is really fascinating to me.”
As Waite heads into her senior year at WMU, she continues to be passionate about her major and the notion of helping others through her design efforts.
“As a designer, sustainability is really important to me. I don’t want to make things that people simply throw away,” said Waite. “I want to make products that last, that invoke memories, that you can pass down.”