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August 1, 2022

Unlearning and Relearning Design Pedagogy: Mei Zheng BFA ID 23’ and Carmen Belmonte Sandoval BFA ID 23’

by meizheng23

Unlearning and Relearning Design Pedagogy

Mei: Hello, everyone! My name is Mei [they/them]. I’m a rising senior in Industrial Design with double minors in Nature, Culture, Sustainability Studies, and History, Philosophy, and Social Sciences: Scientific Inquiry at the Rhode Island School of Design.

For our Follow the Fellows, my partner, Carmen Belmonte Sandoval, and I will be taking turns each to share our own perspectives throughout this Maharam Fellowship.

Introducing The Pathways Program


This summer, we are working with HYPOTHEkids [a K-12, STEAM-education non-profit located in West Harlem, NYC] and Beam Center [Brooklyn, NYC] teams to redefine design pedagogy through the Biomedical Engineering and Design Thinking lens. In addition, the Pathways Program [a 6-week accelerated program collaboration between HYPOTHEkids, Beam Center, and SolarOne NYC] has already kickstarted and had our 2-week portion for July 5th, where we redesigned educational materials with considerations of students who’ve newly immigrated to the United States and are in the process of getting their GEDs. In this program, we’ve developed a multilingual curriculum to make heart rate monitors through guided activities, presentations, workshops, and celebrations for these hands-on experiences.

As we began our Maharam Fellowship, we centered, firstly, on the experiences of these students through empowerment in understanding the many different ways of communication to inspire co-creation and collaboration.

6/13 Starting Adjustments, Virtual Programming 

For our Maharam Fellowship, we are collaborating with HYPOTHEkids. When we started, the first couple of weeks were mostly us getting adjusted to moving, getting acquainted with learning materials, and meeting our vibrant internship advisor and Bioforce Program Director at HYPOTHEkids, Liv, along with HYPOTHEkids staff members! In this process, both virtual and transitioning to in-person, we understood the limitations of our proposal, which included the engagement of public space [i.e., collaborating with NYC public parks and NYCHA], and that plans do change as time goes on. 

During these virtual meetings with Liv, we discussed further the planning of the expected weeks along with the existing Biomedical Engineering Design materials to construct learning lessons to be flexible and interactive. Carmen and I recognized that though these processes are similar, the effectiveness remains in how the content is made accessible in context. The question that came up for both of us was,

  • how might we develop these multilingual materials visually to align both content to context? How can we utilize design to inspire joyful and accessible experiences?
HYPOTHEkids Biomedical Engineering Design Notes
Double Diamond Implementation by Meret Götschel

Our main goal for this collaboration is to introduce and engage new design thinking tools to inspire hands-on, intergenerational learning amongst all. Even with the change, we noticed that the connections to our initial proposal remained centered with the Pathways Program, as it asks us all [students, educators, facilitators] the question of,

  • how do we intend to arrange “with” and not “for” marginalized students to create spaces of empowerment, agency, and accessibility that are expansive?

We are prepared to be flexible as this experience emerges, with pursuing these initial activities and goals as discussed:

  1. Interacting with staff members [i.e., Curriculum Specialists, Directors, Coordinators, etc.] in re-formulating pilot lessons about STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Design, and Mathematics] and inviting collaboration between other local non-profit organizations.
  2. Participating in these workshops’ planning and assembling process and the on-site presence of HYPOTHEkids.
  3. Researching and assessing successes in the engagement and cost-effectiveness of developing this new intergenerational educational curricula.
  4. Developing educational and accessible engagement artifacts/skills to continue memorable learning experiences.

Truthfully, we both arrived and started our Maharam Fellowship a bit earlier than most of our cohort in late June and wanted to take some time to sit with and reflect on our insights before we shared them, as these moments are ones to remember. 

6/18 – Mei: With my suitcase and duffle bags in hand, traveling by train from Providence, Rhode Island, to New York City, I felt this readiness to undergo a series of transformations and the willingness to “not know.” Such acknowledgment of this gem of “not knowing” was shared through the knowledge of Alexx Temeña, founder of the School of Embodied Praxis, and the 2022 breath fellowship, a virtual eight-week residency collaboration between the School of Embodied Praxis x The Haus of Glitter strengthening the art and practice of care in rest to which I’m so grateful to have been a part of, to recognize that rest practice allows the embodiment of fluidity in design learning, design learning is not linear, hence: to know is to “not know”; to rest is to protest; to learn is to practice. So when I finally found myself in the abundance of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, I knew there was much to learn from my surrounding community and what could emerge from this experience. 

Captured what emerged from exposed film moving in, showing powerful stillness through the lens of this window to transformation crucial to my experience beginning this Maharam Fellowship [thank you, Radhika, for sharing this gem, “The Window of Transformation” by Kai Cheng Thom].

Thank you for the warm welcomes from my fellow roommates, Noah [RISD Arch 21’], Marc [RISD Furn 19’], and Sruti [RISD Furn 19’] [always felt your presence here], for creating such a space for slowness and kindness, even when I got the entrance key stuck the first day.

The Window of Transformation by Kai Cheng Thom

6/20Planning In-Person, Seeing HYPOTHEkids

Upon arrival at HYPOTHEkids, it was exciting for us both to see how lesson plans were developed on-site by staff and distributed through assembled kits. In addition, we met Christine Kovich, Executive Director of HYPOTHEkids, and Liv Newkirk, Bioforce Program Director and Internship Advisor, for the first time in person! 

Supplies used for assembling kits & lesson plans.
Meeting with Liv to discuss questions, thoughts, and more about curriculum development.

We began our mornings brainstorming ideas, writing notes, and sharing feedback through Miro. This helped us construct goals, deliverables, and methods to redesign this curriculum. Within this week, Carmen and I referred to visual learning methods from our past studio experiences at RISD, which inspired us to experiment with programming. Miro helped us define our core questions, to then we were able to prompt conversations that needed to happen about access to equipment, language, and space.

Planning notes through Miro: activities, materials, timing, review, etc.

Unlearning and Relearning Design Pedagogy

The Social Change Ecosystem Map by Deepa Iyer, Building Movement Project, 2018

Mei: This fellowship experience will significantly impact my social practice, as it’ll engage, firstly, why we designers are integral and essential in co-creating these opportunities that offer expansive ways of design thinking. In exploring these vast methods of teaching and learning with the community, I spent these initial weeks reading into and practicing more profound mutual aid and rest. I like to imagine a future where we: the critical experimenters, visionaries, healers, and more [who care and engage in these collaborative settings for equity, liberation, justice, and solidarity] co-creating spaces of mutual aid and solidarity as to accessibility and social justice [refer to Deepa Iyer’s, The Social Change Ecosystem Map, 2018]: co-liberation. In redesigning even this curriculum around materials on Biomedical Engineering Design, that is digestible and slow, we unlearn harm in the ways that design teaches us to move linear/fast, and we relearn that this process is emergent/slow. Celebrating each other through this joy is what I find in a community that holds you and others tenderly. 

“If you think that this work is like programming a microwave, where an input leads to immediate output, that’s capitalism speaking.”

[Rehearsing Solidarity: Learning from Mutual Aid, 117]
Art reminds us of the presence of history in visual storytelling, deeply embedded in the social fabric of a community – a mural spotted across the street from HYPOTHEkids in Harlem, NYC.

What’s Next?

In the upcoming weeks to share, we’ve continued designing the curricula through experiential learning [i.e., by practicing Arduino at Columbia’s Biomedical Engineering Department] and met the creative and passionate students at Beam Center. We also began teaching the first week of the Pathways Program! We continued to follow the goals of accessibility to language and collaboration between all students to offer these many pathways to understanding.

Thank you for finding time to come along with the beginnings of this journey in unlearning and relearning design pedagogy.

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