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Summer Internships with a Twist

Summer Internships with a Twist

Working with nonprofits and governmental agencies, RISD’s Maharam STEAM fellows are applying critical thinking to issues well beyond the world of art and design.

Maraham Fellow Callie Clayton 17 TX works on sequencing her DNA with Mike Flanagan, a science researcher at Genspace.

The tech startup culture born in the ’90s has given rise to all kinds of entrepreneurial offshoots, including what rising senior Callie Clayton 17 TX refers to as “citizen science.” As one of this summer’s 10 Maraham STEAM Fellows, Clayton is interning at an innovation hub in Brooklyn: Genspace, one of 30 community bio-labs that have sprung up across the country.

Open to science teachers, businesspeople, journalists and other amateur scientists, Genspace offers affordable access to a lab where people can conduct individual research. Clayton has already met a visiting designer exploring how sound waves affect the growth of Kombucha (fermented tea) and an industrial designer working on biogenetically generated materials for use in home goods, such as lampshades.

“What I’m really interested in is how little government regulation there is around citizen science,” says Clayton. “That allows for a lot of innovation.”

Is it safe for amateur scientists to be messing around in the lab? “Oh yeah,” says Clayton. “People are using the lab to conduct innocuous experiments. Ultimately I hope to work in the field of material design research myself, but for this project I’m focusing on creating graphics – for Genspace and other community labs – that clearly communicate lab protocols.”

Funded by NYC textiles manufacturer Maharam, the STEAM Fellowship in Applied Art and Design provides RISD students and recent alumni with a stipend for summer internships that enable them to bring art and design thinking to unexpected venues. Now in its fifth year, the program has supported interns working as far away as the Philippines, India and Brazil as well as those championing causes close to home, such as streamlining voting procedures in the state of Rhode Island.

"Maharam STEAM fellows demonstrate that artists and designers have unique abilities to make a positive global impact."
RISD President Rosanne Somerson 76 ID

New graduate and 2016 Maharam Fellow Josephine Devanbu BRDD 16 PT is working at the California Institute for Water Resources, where she's interviewing farmers impacted by the state’s ongoing drought. Hoping to bring more human dimensions to the Institute’s research, she’s focusing on the impact of changing regulations regarding groundwater use.

“Most of our country’s food is grown in California’s Central Valley,” Devanbu explains, “and groundwater keeps that engine running. How will the state's new quotas change farmers’ relationships to their land? How are social contracts shifting in response to changing resources?” This summer Devanbu, who also earned an AB in Science and Society at Brown, is attempting to answer such questions and tell the farmers’ stories via a blog that includes photographs and illuminating sketches.

Illustration major Yuko Okabe 17 IL is applying her energy and talents to helping to design mobile therapy games for patients at Boston Children’s Hospital, while Apparel Design major Lucy Crelli 17 AP is working at Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island, aiding refugees and immigrants in their transition to life in the US. On the West Coast, grad student Evan Daniel MFA 17 DM is addressing ethical dilemmas at the Dynamic Robotics Lab at Oregon State University, while fellow MFA candidate Bo-Won Keum MFA 17 GD is working in Seattle to develop a global archiving strategy in partnership with Books to Prisoners.

Other 2016 Maharam fellows are bringing design thinking to various projects and organizations around the globe. For instance, Natalia Blanco 16 SC and Nicholas Fernandez 16 SC are in Cuba helping at the cultural preservation-focused Fundación Amistad, Chris Cohoon MA 16 is teaching empathic design-centered leadership to US Marines stationed in Japan and Qi Guo BArch 17 is helping to improve housing options at St. John’s Vocational Training Centre in Sri Lanka.

“Maharam STEAM fellows demonstrate that artists and designers have unique abilities to make a positive global impact,” RISD President Rosanne Somerson 76 ID pointed out in May during a celebration of the program in NYC. She was delighted to share the news that in years to come Maharam will continue to support RISD students in their efforts to improve social policy and remedy societal problems worldwide.

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