Maharam Fellows Explore New Frontiers

Ice on the water in Iceland

Now in its seventh year, the Maharam STEAM Fellowship in Art and Design supports summer internships for RISD students and recent graduates that broaden the reach of art and design thinking around the world. Eleven Maharam fellows are currently using the critical making skills they honed at RISD to make a difference at government agencies and nonprofits as far away as Wellington, New Zealand and as close to home as Providence.

“Maharam believes that critical, creative thinking is essential to shaping a desirable cultural and economic future,” says Mary Murphy MAE 86, senior vice president of design at Maharam, a NYC-based textiles company. “We recognize the global impact that today’s students will have on tomorrow’s world and hope to accelerate that change.”

Syrian children playing on a playground structure
Sara Naja MArch 19 is using her design skills to help Syrian children living in refugee camps in the Bekaa valley in Lebanon.

Two Industrial Design students and a recent Interior Architecture graduate are making an impact here in Rhode Island. Adam Chuong MID 19 is working with Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE)—a nonprofit that mobilizes low-income families in communities of color—to develop tools and strategies for promoting a ballot initiative that would mitigate the housing crisis in Providence. Across town, rising senior Micah Epstein 19 ID, a self-described “bike geek,” is using human-centered design to help the city launch a bicycle/pedestrian corridor and an e-bike sharing program. And new graduate Nakeia Medcalf MDes 18 is facilitating workshops for the African Alliance of Rhode Island in order to plan an urban community on Providence’s South Side based on the principles of self-design, -build and -governance.

“Maharam believes that critical, creative thinking is essential to shaping a desirable cultural and economic future.”

Maharam Vice President Mary Murphy

Other fellows are working across the country to inspire change through various art initiatives. As an artist in residence at The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY, recent graduate William Samosir 18 SC is teaching computational literacy through spatial thinking and collaborative play. Kalina Winters 18 PT, another fine arts graduate from the Class of 2018, is teaming up with Women’s Campaign International in Philadelphia to mount a community art exhibition that will provide a platform for female artists in Pennsylvania.

“This project has been a balancing act for sure,” Winters writes on the Maharam STEAM Fellows blog. “I keep reminding myself that event planners and curators need practice too!”

Print by K. Sarrantonio MFA 18 PR
Printmaker K. Sarrantonio MFA 18 PR is working with the Brooklyn-based nonprofit Make the Road New York.

In Brooklyn printmaker K. Sarrantonio MFA 18 PR is tapping the creative power of kids to make prints with the local nonprofit Make the Road New York. “The process of building printmaking facilities and learning to design images for print is empowering them to create their own messaging for posters and signs that will impact the greater community,” Sarrantonio explains.

In Chicago grad student Bobby Joe Smith MFA 20 GD is using his graphic design skills to help SaveMoneySaveLife (SMSL)—a foundation focused on mental health and environmental justice—develop a visual identity. He’s also conducting workshops with community members designed to spur new programs. On the west coast, Brown|RISD dual degree student Juan Javier Syquia BRDD 21 GD is conducting research and developing a visual identity at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA. “I’m excited to see how designing around complex scientific ideas will change my process and lead to innovative outcomes,” he says.

“I’m excited to see how designing around complex scientific ideas will change my process and lead to innovative outcomes.”

Juan Javier Syquia BRDD 21 GD
Building materials that Juan Javier Syquia BRDD 21 GD is working to develop with NASA
Juan Javier Syquia BRDD 21 GD is working with NASA to develop building materials grown from fungi for theoretical use on Mars.

Further afield fellows are using their design skills to help displaced children in Lebanon and Turkey, explore changing demographics in New Zealand and promote interdisciplinary research of the rapidly changing Arctic in Iceland. Sara Naja MArch 19 is interning with the nonprofit Karam Foundation to improve the quality of life for young Syrian refugees.

“A playground for refugee kids living in camps in the Bekaa valley is nearing completion,” Naja writes on the blog. “It is sad to see children so young… living in such bad conditions. The playground is a space for them to act their age.”

Rising senior John Shen 19 PH has returned to his home country of New Zealand to work with Age Concern, an organization dedicated to promoting dignity, wellbeing, equity and respect for senior citizens. He hopes that his portraits will add a much-needed qualitative element—“a human face”—to the discussion.

John Shen 19 PH's portrait of senior citizen with dog
John Shen’s portraits of senior citizens in New Zealand help to humanize discussions about their rights.

Ten thousand miles away, recent graduate Gavin Zeitz MLA 18 is working with theJournal of the North Atlantic & Arctic (JONAA) in Reykjavik, Iceland to build a network connecting Arctic agencies and stakeholders and promoting collaboration across disciplines. “I’m interested in the various ways that our northern landscapes are currently being altered by new climate regimes and how culture will adapt or respond to new normals,” he explains.

“Gavin and many of the other 2018 Maharam fellows have an urgent energy this year,” notes Kevin Jankowski 88 IL, who oversees the program as director of the Career Center. “They want to make an impact, build community and further social justice causes. They’re also showing that a RISD education is more powerful than ever in preparing students to make change in the world.”

Simone Solondz

August 10, 2018

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