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The Current Fellows

The 2021 Maharam Fellows are working in arenas not typically associated with art and design students. They have the opportunity to effect real change in sustainability and social justice through internships with local and global organizations and communities. As part of the program, fellows blog about their experiences throughout the summer and make a final report to Maharam about what they discovered through their internships.
Kaanchi Chopra | Remake
BFA 2021 | Industrial Design

Kaanchi is a designer and an activist from New Delhi, India pursuing Industrial Design and Sustainability Studies at RISD. She is passionate about using design as a tool to create social and environmental impact. Through her work, she aims to empower marginalized communities and create sustainable change in people’s lives. This summer, she will be working with Remake as a Digital Content Intern to humanize the fashion industry by putting a face to the 75+ million women who make our clothes. Fast fashion today is synonymous with forced and child labor, and it puts the ecology at risk throughout all steps of the supply chain. Kaanchi will be working on the PayUp Fashion campaign, by digesting research reports and translating them into compelling visual content for the public. She will also aid with the creation of editorial articles, the design of public-engaging infographics, and the collection of worker testimonials. The hopeful outcome of this role will be campaign growth and accruing pressure on apparel brands through education and engagement with the public.
Jasmine Gutbrod | Eating With The Ecosystem
MA 2021 | Teaching + Learning in Art & Design
Jasmine Gutbrod is an artist, designer, and educator working at the intersection of climate science and social justice. She received her bachelor’s degree in Furniture Design and Nature-Culture-Sustainability studies and is currently pursuing her masters in Art and Design Education. Through physical object-making she studies ecological processes and how natural material properties influence behavior, often conceptualizing the borders between inside and outside spaces. She sees art and design as valuable tools for community building and empowerment, and innovative education as a pathway for those tools. As a Maharam STEAM Fellow, Jasmine will be collaborating with local Rhode Island non-profit Eating with the Ecosystem to investigate the ways that climate change affects our diets. Jasmine will build off of the organization’s current research project “Climate-Resilient Supply Chains: Adapting to Fisheries of the Future” by developing community-centered educational materials on sustainable and equitable seafood consumption.
Jason Hebert | Groundwork Rhode Island
MID 2022 | Industrial Design

Jason Hebert is an interdisciplinary designer focusing on sustainable systems with a current interest in design for waste accountability and climate justice. Born and raised in Vermont, he has a background in digital media theory and production; however, he now is enrolled as an Industrial Design graduate student with an intent to design for good. As a Design Education Coordinator (joined by Juliana Soltys), Jason plans to join Groundwork Rhode Island’s Green Team Youth Program to add design and systems thinking to its current curriculum. This program works directly with hired youth of color in recovering redlined neighborhoods, located in the Providence metropolitan area of Rhode Island. These coordinators aim to support the high-school aged youth in understanding the history of their communities, discovering ways for articulating solutions, and implementing iterations of small—but impactful—interventions. From this experience, Jason hopes to experience the local impact of grassroots stewardship practices and gain a clearer understanding of the interlaps between social-oriented, bottom-up initiatives and design.
Zibby Jahns | Transform Drug Policy Foundation
MFA 2022 | Sculpture

Zibby Jahns is an interdisciplinary artist who explores themes of connection and loss within community space through memory, as invoked by debris and objects made sacred. They navigate these themes through performance, illustration, textile and sculpture. The concept of making an offering within their visual art practice is integral to their social practice work. During their MFA at RISD, Zibby has focused their practice on building sculptures that offer resources and solace for those who are grieving. Outside of their art practice, Zibby has spent the past five years working to combat the detrimental effects of the drug war on their New Orleans community through herbalism, harm reduction, affordable alternatives to the medical system, ear acupuncture and group therapy. This summer, Zibby will be working with Transform, a desk-based research organization focusing on the catastrophic effect drug policies have on communities, to create a collection of images corresponding to Transform’s literature to make their briefings and research more accessible to a broader population, and to de-stigmatize some of the misconceptions people have around drug use.
Shreya Kaipa | Sankofa Food and Cultural Initiative
BArch 2023 | Architecture

Shreya is a spatial designer and organizer who values community-centered design that prioritizes socio-economic conditions of place, and ecology. She is interested in finding ways of working with immigrant communities to create opportunities to celebrate and revive cultural ecological practices through land and space. This summer, she will be working with and learning from the Sankofa Cultural Initiative from the West Elmwood Housing Corporation in the West End of Providence. Sankofa manages a community garden and farmer’s market that positions immigrants to be able to grow and share culturally specific produce. Through conversation with growers, chefs, and vendors, she will work with them to bring awareness to under prioritized communities by proposing a spatial intervention that considers underutilized urban space as a resource. Shreya hopes to create an opportunity for members within food deserted areas to have more access to growing, cooking, and sharing produce that in addition, has cultural significance.


Vrinda Mathur | Social Enterprise Greenhouse
MID 2022 | Industrial Design

Vrinda Mathur is a graduate student of Industrial Design at the Rhode Island School of Design. She made a pivotal shift in her professional career after gaining entrepreneurial experience with Studio Wood, a furniture design practise she co-founded in 2014 in India. With her academic leap, she aspires to hone her creative abilities to solve larger humanitarian problems through the medium of art, design and thinking in systems. As a Maharam Fellow she will be working with Social Enterprise Greenhouse (SEG), a non profit organisation based in Providence, Rhode Island. She will assist on projects in the realm of community empowerment through the lens of a changing climate. With the fellowship, she hopes to bring voices of historically excluded and marginalised communities to the forefront and amplify systemic inequities that continue to weaken their stature as a stakeholder in climate action policies. She will be working in collaboration with SEG’s affiliate organisations focusing on equity and inclusion, water, energy, and food systems.


Leslie Ponce Diaz | Kansas City Public Schools USD 500, Enough Is Enough
BArch 2023 | Architecture

Leslie Ponce-Díaz is currently a First-Generation Mexican American student studying Architecture at Rhode Island School of Design with a double concentration in Nature, Culture, Sustainability Studies and Theory and History of Art and Design. This summer, Leslie will be returning back to her hometown in Kansas City, Kansas to work with an initiative created by her past school district called, Enough is Enough, whose aim is to raise gun violence awareness within the KCK community. Leslie will be pursuing community building within the initiative, Enough is Enough as well as her community organization, First-Gen Chisme to help provide First-Generation and BIPOC students the necessary resources for post-secondary education. Leslie is a proud member of RISD’s Latinx club, Mango Street and RISD NOMAS. She continues to explore her passions in architecture, community, and education through her involvement as a RISD Museum Spalter Teaching Fellow, Newman Civic Fellow, and First-Gen Chisme. She will also be dedicating a part of her summer in the Brown University B-Lab in hopes of creating a non-profit tech app with First-Gen Chisme!
Kate Reed | BosLab
BRDD 2021 | Industrial Design / Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Kate is a Boston-based designer building wearable technology leveraging the principles of nature to connect humans and computers. She built her first wearable when she was 13, before the introduction of the Apple Watch. Since then, she has designed, engineered and built hundreds of wearable computers. After becoming the first graduate of the MIT-backed NuVu Studio, Kate received two undergraduate degrees, one in Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Brown University and the other in Industrial Design & Computational Technology at The Rhode Island School of Design. Her designs and inventions have been featured at the White House, New York Fashion Week, Museum of Design Atlanta, the Hackaday Superconference, MIT Museum, and more. This summer, Kate will be working at BosLab, a community built molecular biology lab in Cambridge, MA, as their artist in residence. She will be researching bacteria in search of a planet-friendly alternative to traditional textile dyeing methods.
Juliana Soltys | Groundwork Rhode Island
MID 2022 | Industrial Design

Juliana is an interdisciplinary designer with an interest in agriculture, systems thinking, and sustainable design. She comes from a mechanical engineering background and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Industrial Design, focusing on food systems, video production, storytelling, and education. This summer, Juliana Soltys and her classmate, Jason Hebert, will work with Groundwork Rhode Island (GWRI) Green Team Youth in the Providence metropolitan area as Design Education Coordinators. Working with the Green Team Youth leaders and hired youth, they will incorporate design thinking and systems-centric & solution-finding skills into the preexistent curriculum to develop environmental stewardship design proposals. The goal is to increase the youths’ agency and autonomy by understanding the history of their communities, designing solutions, and engaging in effective action. Juliana hopes to gain knowledge by working with a grassroots organization and learn from a community-based philosophy.
Avantika Velho | Living Systems Laboratory
BFA 2021 | Industrial Design

Born and raised in Goa, India, Avantika is an interdisciplinary designer and inquisitive thinker fascinated by the intersection and integration of design, science, and technology. Her studies in Industrial Design and concentration in Nature, Culture, and Sustainability Studies at RISD fuel her passion for designing sustainable, accessible, and regenerative future technologies. Through her work, she seeks to explore our intricate living world and translate her understanding into meaningful products, systems, and interactions that encourage curiosity and facilitate shifts in people’s mindsets and behaviors to help create lasting socio-ecological impact. This summer, Avantika will be working with the Living Systems Laboratory in South Grafton, MA as a researcher and designer. She will immerse herself in the laboratory’s bioremediation research and subsequently work to design a more interactive lab experience that connects observers to the invisible natural systems they might encounter. Additionally, she hopes to develop ways to engage the local community in the regenerative work being done at the lab to help improve the facility’s role as a community resource for environmental remediation and applied ecological education.