Learning through Service
Eager to put her commitment to social justice to good use, Sophie Chien BArch 20 wasted no time in applying for a Leadership and Community Engagement (LACE) Fellowship once she arrived at RISD last fall. The program run by the Center for Student Involvement (CSI) helps students connect with local nonprofits and contribute the design thinking and approach to problem solving they’re fine tuning in the studio.
“I wanted to see how RISD fits into the Rhode Island ecosystem,” says Chien, who put in roughly 150 hours this year volunteering at the Mt. Hope Learning Center (MHLC) alongside Kathia St Hilaire 17 PT – about a mile from campus. Teaching STEAM lessons to second-graders and acting as a community liaison between RISD and MHLC, she says, “has challenged me as a student leader, put my own educational opportunities in perspective and made me appreciate Providence as a richly diverse place.”
LACE fellows commit to devoting 300 hours during the academic year to a mix of direct and indirect service work in Providence complemented by on-campus leadership training and critical reflection with other fellows. They split their time working with a specific community organization and participating in RISD programs like Alternative Spring Break, the annual MLK Day of Service and the weekly RISD LEADS workshop series. After completing the program, they earn a $1,200 grant to support their education.
“Unlike other fellowship programs that require students to have a firm sense of their project beforehand,” says the CSI’s Community Partnership Coordinator Stuart Haruyama, “we work with each student individually to develop a list of engaging service opportunities.” He and other advisors then talk with each student to set “clear learning goals to guide their work.”
Many of this year’s LACE fellows opted to organize hands-on art programs for children and other groups in Providence. For instance, Sandra Lopez-Naz 17 TX, who grew up in Providence, relaunched the Youth Apparel Program at the city’s community art center AS220, and Tommy Maing 17 AP taught apparel design classes at the Olneyville Public Library. For a second year, returning LACE fellow Lillian Krieger 16 ID brought core RISD concepts to her service work with the Providence Children's Museum.
Each spring the LACE program culminates with individualized “capstone projects” that connect RISD to underserved groups in Providence. For her project, Paridhi Mundra 18 IL led Visualizing the Bridge, an interactive arts workshop for immigrant and refugee families at Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island. Sophomores Alexandria Clay 18 PT and Chantal Feitosa 18 FAV organized a portfolio review and career fair through Rhode Island for Community and Justice to address issues of underfunding for high school arts programs.
Feitosa and many of this year’s other 10 fellows say that through LACE they have learned valuable lessons about working in the nonprofit sector and how design thinking can help them reach people. They also see the program as an invaluable opportunity to extend their education beyond the “studio bubble.”
In addition to community outreach beyond College Hill, LACE encourages fellows to serve on-campus organizations. Lucy Crelli 17 AP, for example, let her work as cofounder of Sexual Health and Relationship Educators (SHARE) and president of RISD Global Initiative inform her LACE experience with the domestic violence agency Sojourner House.
Jessica Young 18 IL, whose capstone project established a correspondence between kids at the local nonprofit ¡CityArts! and RISD students, appreciates the opportunity to serve as a role model for urban youth. “Without the amazing experience of LACE, my eyes would [not be as] open to the greater Providence community,” she says. “Service is important not only to better yourself, but to build community and encourage others. Through LACE I have grown as a leader, an artist and a community member.”