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Pelosi Attends Roundtable at RISD

06/25/2013

RISD President John Maeda listens as US House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks about the power of innovation.

On Monday, June 24, US House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rhode Island Congressmen David Cicilline and Jim Langevin visited RISD to take part in a roundtable discussion about how design and critical making can reinvigorate Rhode Island’s economy in the coming years. Congressman Cicilline, RISD President John Maeda and RISD’s Board of Trustees Chair Michael Spalter hosted the discussion, which included RISD deans, local educators, entrepreneurs, business leaders and economic development specialists. Holding the discussion at RISD was particularly appropriate given that the college was originally founded in 1877 to help Rhode Island’s burgeoning manufacturing and textiles industry better compete with European producers through a heightened understanding of design and aesthetic considerations.

President Maeda kicked off the discussion with a visual and tactile presentation of RISD’s place at the epicenter of technology, design and innovation. With a focus on critical making and the inspiring resources available at the Edna Lawrence Nature Lab and the Material Resource Center, he explained, RISD students gain a deep understanding of materiality, which helps them create products that people want to buy. He went on to highlight just a few of the many successful innovations designed by RISD alumni, including a flexible power strip called Pivot PowerAirbnb, the popular online lodging site for travelers; and a watch for the sight impaired currently under development and inspired by a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. “Good design is what makes tech desirable,” the president observed.

Congressman Cicilline echoed Maeda’s sentiments, noting that Rhode Island is uniquely positioned to be at the center of the next wave of US design and manufacturing. He argued that with designers and manufacturers in such close proximity, there is real room for innovation in manufacturing processes. And Congressman Langevin emphasized that innovation and creativity – essential qualities nurtured by an art and design education – are what distinguish America’s economy.

Democratic Leader Pelosi, who said that she has always equated RISD with excellence, listened attentively to the ideas of the assembled educators and business leaders and said they would be considered as Congress fleshes out its innovation agenda. She also lauded the efforts spearheaded by Congressmen Langevin and Cicilline to turn STEM to STEAM. The purpose of government, she averred, is “the flowering of civilization,” and only by supporting education, immigration, entrepreneurship and creativity can we succeed in this mission. Pelosi sees the America COMPETES Act, which was reauthorized in 2010, as a continuation of the efforts first put forward by President Kennedy’s administration when America raced to be first to land on the moon in the early 1960s. “It seemed impossible at the time,” she exclaimed, “but it only took 10 years!”

In response to specific questions about how the US government can support entrepreneurship, Pelosi acknowledged that federal funding for research should not be relegated to the tried and true, which discourages researchers from taking risks and making the mistakes needed to learn and move forward. Overall, she focused on the value of education and the need to encourage transformative thinking. “Nothing brings more money to the treasury than education,” Pelosi insisted. “And as the poet Shelley said: the greatest force for world good is imagination.”

Simone Solondz

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tags: innovation, local/global, public engagement, research, social responsibility, STEAM

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