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The Current Fellows

The 2022 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.
Santiago Alvarado | Tomaquag Museum
BFA 2024 | Industrial Design

Santiago Alvarado is an enthusiastic person, dedicated towards working with people and bringing community together. He is a first-gen Peruvian-American student currently studying Industrial Design and double concentrating between Nature, Culture, Sustainability Studies (NCSS) and History, Philosophy, and the Social Sciences (HPSS). He is interested in systems design, ethnobotany, and storytelling. He currently resides on Narragansett Land and is Quechua of the Andean Region (Arequipa, Peru). This summer, he will be working with the Tomaquag Museum, a space to recognize living history and dedicated to engaging and educating communities about erased indigenous histories. This summer to support their mission, Santiago will be hosting community workshops on decolonial mapping practices and memory as well as working with Native youth. He will also be working to support the expanding the Indigenous Empowerment Network and supporting the work towards building solidarity and community amongst indigenous peoples and nations.
Carmen Belmonte Sandoval | HYPOTHEkids
BFA 2023 | Industrial Design

Carmen Belmonte Sandoval was born and raised in Singapore, of Mexican heritage, and brought up in New York City and Brazil. As an Industrial Designer with a concentration in Nature-Culture-Sustainability Studies at RISD, Carmen is interested in designing for accessibility by providing transparency in her projects that work toward an equitable and regenerative future. Carmen has worked with the Isamu Noguchi and the Guggenheim Museums, where she respectively designed family art activity banners and worked on their first sustainable future research practicum. She questions our public spaces, their uses, and our roles in the community. This summer, Carmen and her partner, Mei Zheng, will be creating a curriculum with interactive and empowering toolkits that facilitate intergenerational education in outdoor spaces with the NYC-based non-profit, HYPOTHEkids, which currently brings science classes to marginalized communities. She contends that there is a disparity in environmental-education opportunities, thus provoking accessible and public interventions that welcome a broader dialogue because it takes the efforts of all generations to contribute to mending our future that gives everyone agency over their lives.
Abena Otema Danquah | Disapora Affairs Office of the President of Ghana
BArch 2023 | Architecture

Abena Otema is an interdisciplinary designer passionate about contributing to the contemporary West-African architectural landscape informed by local practices, material, and spatial thinking specific to climatic and local needs. Raised in Accra, Ghana, her sense of making work that was reflective of the culture and people of the environment grew increasingly as she realized more and more – “what is our future if it’s not reflective of our past?” This summer, she will be working with the Diaspora Affairs Office of the President of Ghana to starts a database exploring Ghanaian Cultural Heritage under three categories: the people and oral culture, local craftsmanship, and local architecture. This will be an ongoing process of documenting their craftwork, enterprises, and experiences through digital and mixed media forms to be shared with the diasporic and local youth. Her hope is for this audience to not only gain a better understanding of the culture and those ensuring its preservation through their artistry, but to generate support and investment in these practices and their continuity.
Helina Yuheng He | LDONGTSOG
BFA 2023 | Industrial Design

Helina Yuheng He is a student of Industrial Design at Rhode Island School of Design, and she concentrates in Theory and History of Art and Design. Born and raised in Guizhou, China, Helina cares about protecting ethnic cultures through creative thinking methods such as museum education and service design. She used to volunteer in environmental protection groups, through which she found meaning in creating humanitarian impacts through design thinking. This summer, Helina will be working with LDONGTSOG, a non-profit Chinese-Tibetan environmental organization in Kehe Village, Sichuan, China, to develop configurations of communication materials that address both their indigenous culture and environment. She will identify LDONGTSOG’s visual cultures and facilitate their public education programs. Helina hopes to use the fellowship to bridge the communication gap between Kehe Tibetan, who has been directly impacted by climate change, and their city audience.
Pei-Yu Hung | Taiwan Youth Association for Transitional Justice and Kiong Seng
BFA 2024 | Industrial Design

Pei-Yu is an interdisciplinary designer from Taiwan, currently studying Industrial Design double concentrating in Nature Culture Sustainability Studies and History Philosophy Social Studies. Throughout her study, Pei-Yu has been focusing on anti-colonial design principles and has been passionate about social justice, transitional justice, and historical awareness. She is interested in storytelling through different media and translation between form and emotions that empower untold stories for marginalized groups. She believes that to move toward the future, we must be grounded in the past and that designers have the power of creating bridges between time and communities. This summer, she will be working with Taiwan Youth Association for Transitional Justice and Kiong Seng on their website and collaborating on a digital mapping project documenting stories on the 228 Massacre in Taiwan. Through this project, information about this historical injustice event can be more accessible online in order to share the unspoken history of Taiwan and reignite the conversation between generations and the land.


Lucia Li | Literacy for Environmental Justice
BFA 2024 | Industrial Design

Lucia is a designer and illustrator exploring the intersection of design, education, and environmental justice within community contexts. As a current Industrial Design undergraduate with a concentration in Nature, Culture, and Sustainability Studies, she hopes to apply some of her academic interest in environmental science and communication towards human-driven process design and on-the-ground environmental justice work. This summer, Lucia will join Literacy for Environmental Justice (LEJ) in her hometown of the San Francisco Bay Area as a designer and educator. Building off the organization’s pre-existing community ties, Lucia will implement design thinking and visual learning strategies to strengthen youth-centric ecoliteracy curricula and make environmental justice more accessible to local marginalized communities. Ultimately, Lucia hopes their work will help build genuine connections between young people and nature — cultivating new understandings based on stewardship, reciprocity, and community while also developing an educational foundation that individuals can draw upon to advocate for their own environmental futures.


Derek Russell | Fundación Raiz
BArch 2022 | Architecture

Derek Russell is an architect, environmental sociologist, and multi-disciplinary artist from Colorado who dedicates his efforts to community driven design as a way to incite resilience. He has worked between art and governance, for various environmental advocacy groups including Brown University’s Climate and Development Lab and the Public Interest Network. He is the founder and director of Creature Conserve’s Mentorship Program. Sumak Kawsay, or ‘good living,’ is an Ecuadorian philosophy that imbues nature with inalienable rights. However, many local communities who embrace humanity in symbiosis with the natural world have been rapidly destroyed by climate disaster and fossil fuel drilling. With Fundación Raiz’s CAEMBA initiative, bamboo architecture employed as a form of disaster relief and mitigation, Russell plans to develop community planning strategies that can help the organization ethically engage in the relocation of their emergency housing to new indigenous communities across the Amazon. He hopes to foster adaptable tools for working between groups without common languages, terrains, and climate to incite other modes of engagement for indigenous sovereignty and women’s empowerment as the organization expands in a warming and disappearing world.

Abenda Sohn | Liberian Community Association of Rhode Island
BFA 2022 | Illustration

Abenda Sohn is a Liberian American interdisciplinary artist whose works explore identity, memory, and Liberia’s history as it connects to his American experiences. These themes capture a dialogue between the viewers and him, which creates a feeling and knowledge he cannot explain but can express visually. His process involves critical academic research, family albums, public archives, and oral communal dialogues. These resources allow him to shift through time; a fragment of moments in time are being assembled with what he creates formally, conceptually, and spiritually. This summer, Sohn will be working alongside the Liberian Community Association of Rhode Island, a small non-profit organization, to help bring awareness to their efforts toward immigration reform through the form of artmaking. Using art as a link will connect personal narratives and advocacy to assist those who need to complete the process regarding their immigration status.
Ruth Wondimu | Green Ethiopia
MArch 2023 | Architecture

Born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Ruth Wondimu is a RISD graduate student in Architecture who is passionate about working towards building a more equitable global society. Throughout her education and working experience, Ruth has developed a great passion towards developing an interdisciplinary understanding of architecture and urban design by looking through the social, ecological, and political lenses of development. This summer, Ruth will be working as the Architectural and Design Correspondent for Green Ethiopia. Green Ethiopia is an organization initiated to create awareness on environmental sustainability with the goal of facilitating discussions around current ecological issues in Ethiopia. With the support of the team, Ruth will be conducting outreach and community organization programs for professionals within the architectural industry as well creating educational platforms to raise awareness on sustainable systems and practices for the public. With this fellowship, Ruth hopes to contribute to a more sustainably aware community of professionals as well as a better-informed public on the benefits and processes of sustainable social and technological practices.
Mei Zheng | HYPOTHEkids
BFA 2023 | Industrial Design

Born in Lenapehoking [Brooklyn, NY] and raised on Lenapehoking/Schaghticoke/Wappinger land [Stamford, CT], Mei Zheng [they/them] is a first-gen, queer, Chinese-American, discursive and experience designer valuing presence, resiliency, and love languages in organizing community-led solidarity and action. Double concentrating in Nature-Culture-Sustainability Studies + History-Philosophy-Social Sciences with Industrial Design at RISD, Mei explores how we care for the earth through degrowth: spatially, emotionally, and materially. This summer, Mei Zheng and their partner, Carmen Belmonte Sandoval, plan to join HYPOTHEkids’s STEAM the Streets initiative in reframing curricula centering on the outdoors for empowerment and healing of intergenerational NYC communities as Public Design Educator and Coordinator Interns. This program works directly with the New York City Housing Authority community to support low-income youth in bridging the gap within STEAM education, located in Harlem, NYC. Together, Carmen and Mei, aim to reaffirm and embrace the need for collective stewardship towards surrounding ecosystems, understanding the history of the land, and designing accessible iterations of – small yet impactful – tools for social intervention. Mei hopes to create space and gain knowledge with HYPOTHEkids, in engaging community-based applications and socially-driven impact.