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Posts from the ‘RISD Maharam Fellows’ Category


Designing in STEM | Javier Syquia | BFA Graphic Design & BA Chemistry 2021

As I am approaching my final week of my internship at NASA Ames, I am starting to heavily focus on producing a lot of design work influenced by the research the team has conducted. These designs range from our team logo, to our team’s website and final presentation to be shown in the upcoming iGEM Jamboree this October in Boston.

Creating a team logo was quite an involved task, as it needed to serve several purposes. First, it needed to be a recognizable symbol for our team to be associated with. It also had to be something that the entire team was happy with, as it will be incorporated into our team sweatshirts that will be worn in the Jamboree. Most importantly, it has to creatively show what our team’s research is about, while still fitting into NASA’s already established design identity. After several iterations, I finally created a logo that everyone on the team enjoys.


The design is inspired by NASA’s Mission Patches that are uniquely designed for each mission. We thought it would be fitting to go with a similar approach, as our research has potential to actually be used on Mars to build human habitats.

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In the screenshot above, you can observe the several iterations that I went through before producing the final logo. One of the more interesting pieces of feedback I received from my supervisor at NASA Ames was to include the image of the Moon on the logo, despite our focus on Mars, due to NASA’s shift in goals to additionally bring humans back to the moon (after a change in Presidential administrations). There were several other iterations of the logo, but the final one we ended with allowed for a lot of opportunities to create a strong, yet flexible design identity for the team.

I’ve now been focusing on how to translate our scientific findings to a more captivating presentation for the Jamboree, not only through graphic design, but also through how the entire presentation is organized. Though I currently cannot share the presentation, below is a short video of what’s in the works.

My goal is to go back and forth between our data and analogies to either grasp more interest or frame information in a more understandable manner. I’m looking forward to my last week at NASA Ames, as I wrap up my final laboratory tests and continue to design deliverables for the team!


Black to the Future

We all want the same things in life and though a history of oppression can derail a person’s vision of happiness and security, being oppressed does not define the future. After two workshops with two very different groups of people, that is something I have come to understand more.

What remains vague is how to get there. The strategy.  Over the past month, I have been reviewing and transcribing commentary from workshops around the Afrofuture. Each workshop was different. The audience was different. The age group was different. And the attitudes were different.

Something that resonated in the first group was the idea of a community thriving around a central focus. The epicenter of many commuities is a place, somewhere that everyone knows they can go to and feel safe and wanted.  A place where values are shared and there is a respect around said values. Within one workshop, the church was suggested as the hub for the Afrofuture community. The church has long been an establishment within the Black community. Even the early Exodusters that moved in west to Kansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico designed their communities around the central hub of the church. The site plans of these all-Black towns emphasized the church as a monument, a place that What the church allowed was a place for the community to fellowship with all generations. The group of participants in this workshop are considered to be baby boomers which made a lot of sense as to why the church would be one strategy for the Afrofuture.

The challenge of inclusivity amongst people of color and religion is to fixate a church as the central focus means to centralize a specific religion. Though there are strengths in the moral compass that the church represents, there are definite challenges. That said, the outcome of this group was a shared desire to have some architectural representation as a hub for the community. And that that hub has long been removed from the Southside of Providence.

I must say that speaking with people who have lived and breathed Providence their whole lives was captivating and filled with passion. Their experiences are valid and are crucial to understand the plight of people of color within Providence.

While no concrete strategies were determined, there was a general positivity and hope that with SELF-DETERMINATION, people of African heritage will prevail.



The Playground| Sara Naja| MArch ’19

Having completed the Lebanon phase of my internship, I was overwhelmed with emotion. Up until a year ago, I had lived in Lebanon my whole life. I was there during the start of the Syrian refugee crisis and through all its phases. Nevertheless, I had not seen refugee camps up close before and had merely visited the areas in which they are present a few times. The conditions in which refugees are living do not even come close to basic life necessities. They are harsh for children and adults alike. The financial aid they are receiving from NGOs is not sufficient to live a comfortable life, and the government is practically nonexistent. Nevertheless, the refugees tend to maintain a positive attitude, supporting their own mental well being, an essential necessity for survival.


I continued visiting the playground and talking to refugee kids in the area. The impact the playground has on the kids exceeded my expectations. It provides them with a space to be kids and nothing more. They forget their problems, stresses, hardships they have been through, and hardships they know they still have to go through. They can concentrate on the activities in front of them and interact with other children. They make friends with one another as they share similar experiences in life in addition to parallel future struggles they know they have to encounter. They hesitate to talking about what they have been through. Moreover, younger children do not fully understand where they are from. Some do not remember moving to Lebanon whereas others were born in Lebanon. Those born in Lebanon do not know whether they are Syrians or Lebanese as they are incapable of receiving either nationality. They either spend the rest of their lives in Lebanon with the inability to travel or they eventually return to Syria to be able to receive the Syrian nationality, although that brings a new round of safety concerns. Unfortunately, these kids do not yet fully comprehend the difficulties of their circumstances and their parents are helpless in supporting them, both economically and developmentally. Encountering these children and their circumstances up close was a sobering experience. Understanding the refugee crisis through the media has almost no window into the reality. We get used to talking about numbers, but in fact every single one of the millions of children has an elaborate story, and faces excruciating hardship.


During my time in Lebanon, talks about the future of a Karam House continued. The idea is to be able to open one in Bekaa. The Bekaa region of Lebanon contains over a million and a half Syrian refugees in Lebanon. It is approximately an hour and a half drive away from Beirut, the capital, and 15 minutes away from the Syrian border. The camps are located in various areas of Bekaa. The area is predominantly agricultural, and so most children end up working in the fields. A Karam House in Bekaa would be able to benefit the refugee kids and open doors for their futures. It does, however, require a lot of analysis and preparation in terms of navigating the political situation, especially with talks of refugees beginning to return to Syria. How many refugees will actually return, and what will they be returning to?



Youth Power Printing Day, K. Sarrantonio, MFA 2018, Printmaking

The most exciting moment of a printmaking project is always when the first proof is pulled. Last week we spent an afternoon printing designs that the Youth Power Project members designed. The youth worked in groups on five designs that inspired them in various ways. Some groups had drawn pictures of someone they admire for their social justice work and included a quote. Others had graphics and messaging they came up with themselves.20180723_155131.jpg

I asked the youth to work in groups of 4-5 each at a table and to collaborate to choose colors. The groups were in charge of designating tasks so that while one person printed someone else would re-ink the screen and another was in charge of placing new patches and posters under the screen to be printed.20180723_155457.jpg

It’s always excited to see the experimentation new printers are willing to take, inking areas individually, mixing new colors, embracing the variation in the otherwise repetitive process. 20180723_160751.jpg

This red and black split-fountain style print on the #AbolishICE print would have been something I advised against because the ink can so easily become muddy when you add black to a screen with a color, but in fact the outcome was some of the most beautiful prints made that day.

It was also interesting to see the ways certain youth took to the process immediately with excitement and others were slower to become enthusiastic, but by the end each group had a pile of prints and was excited for the next printing day so they could bring in shirts and tote bags.20180723_162051.jpg

The photos in this post don’t quite capture the level of mayhem and messy inkiness in a room with 30 young people mixing yogurt cups of ink but that mess is always a sign of a successful printing experience.


Finally Figured Out a Blog Post Title | Micah Epstein Industrial Design ’19

This is the third of four blog posts for this fellowship, which is pretty shocking for me because it represents the beginning of the end for my summer at the Department of Planning. Time certainly flies when you’re having fun, and this summer has been a whole lot of that!

From a project standpoint, the most exciting news I have for you is that I’ve finally finished the web presence for the traffic education campaign I’ve been working on all summer. You can find the web page on the Department of Planning’s page here.


As I’ve mentioned before, one of my favorite part of this project has been the opportunity to do bilingual graphic design. An important aspect of this to me is not making the translation secondary in the design, which I’ve worked towards by using animation to embed the translation directly into the content. I’ve always thought that the visual presence of two identical designs, one in English and one in Spanish, is a little odd. Where space allows, I prefer to include both languages in a single piece. I think this is stronger visually and sends a more direct message of inclusion (rather than just checking the box of having both languages present).

So far, the first of these graphics has been posted on Facebook, which you can see here. The response has honestly been bigger than I ever could have expected, even getting an article in the local news! I really appreciate the opportunity to have an impact on how sustainable transportation infrastructure is presented on such a public stage.

Another project that has recently come to completion was my bike parking fieldwork, which I mentioned in the previous post. To complete this project, I got the opportunity to enter the data I collected into ArcMap, an industry-standard geographical information system (GIS) and mapping tool.

Here you can see an example of the interface and capabilities of ArcMap. It’s an incredibly robust tool for data mapping and spatial analysis. Like any program worth its salt, it does require some technical knowledge – such as the Select Attribute panel pictured to the right, which uses text-based logic syntax to make complicated and specific selections.

As a designer, my experience with programs are from an entirely creative perspective. It was really cool to try my hand with a more technical tool. I’m definitely hoping to build on my GIS education in the future and move my skill-set beyond the creative!

A fun piece of news is that recently Providence has fallen prey to the recent trend of dockless electric scooter share. I have really mixed feelings about them. On one hand, they fill a key gap in sustainable urban mobility, and are shockingly good at solving the last-mile problem. On the other hand, Bird (the scooter company in question) often operates by asking forgiveness rather than permission from city governments. Here is a really excellent article that sums up my apprehensions. For instance, the Providence deployment was poorly timed, coming one day after the city’s press announcement for its new dockless e-bike share initiative with JUMP bikes. This type of “move fast and break things” behavior creates an environment of combativeness between the city and the company, which is regressive to the common goal of creating equitable sustainable transportation options in cities.

Move fast and break things is a problematic business model in urban transportation. comic via the always excellent xkcd

Finally, to finish out the summer I will be working on signage for the Providence City Walk. Signage for wayfinding is something that I’ve been getting increasingly excited about. I see it as a perfect case of the importance of graphic design in civic projects. Pat Weaver in “Wayfinding for Bicycle Routes” writes that “An easy-to-understand wayfinding system helps users understand the bicycle network, and may be particularly helpful to new or infrequent bicyclists.”

This couldn’t be more true. A good wayfinding system can make bike infrastructure accessible, visible, and safe to people who are just starting to bike. As such, it is a crucial part of transitioning people out of their cars and into the public realm.

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This map will (hopefully) exist on some of the larger sign types being installed. In addition to making the map clear and accessible, I’m also hoping to use it as a way to highlight some of the cultural landmarks that are important parts of the South Side’s history.

Thanks for reading, until next time!

// micah epstein //







To the North! — A. Gavin Zeitz MLA ’18

Hello friends, I have settled into the small coastal city of Reykjavik (ray-k-ya-vik) in the southwest of Iceland. I have ventured to this small Northern country to work with JONAA ( furthering cross-disciplinary collaboration surrounding the Arctic and North Atlantic environments and cultures. 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. This includes exploring the various ways tourism has affected Iceland or how new industrial activities may begin in Greenland, or mapping the various stakeholders who contribute to JONAA’s news platform, as well as many other areas of Arctic research. 



Arctic Jewels JONAA©

The first things you notice in the “summer” here is the extra long days which do a number on your perception of time. My flight from Boston to Iceland was a redeye, but since I was flying East the sun was in a state of perpetual sunrise as I approached morning in the Iceland. My first night in town I explored this phenomenon walking along the harbor. According to the weather app the last light of the night was set to disappear at 00:00 (midnight, military time is standard over here) and the first light would arise at 00:04. You might think this means 4 minutes of darkness, but in actuality it is still quite bright and kind of feels more like early evening until it suddenly becomes early morning. This definitely took some adjusting to, fortunately each night the length of darkness increases though I have yet to see a fully dark night.

My first meeting with the folks at JONAA was very nice Audur, Hlin, and Vilborg are the three women who operate the company in Reykjavik. The rest of the JONAA’S authors, contributors, and members are spread out throughout Northern Europe, Canada, Greenland, and the USA (Maine and Alaska). This nomadic organization of contributors defines their scope and attitude towards the Arctic as region deeply connected to the rest of the world. It was a pleasant meeting as we had a lot of interests in common and had similar thoughts about how to improve the website’s offerings. My primary interest in JONAA from the start was the way they defined what was the “Arctic”. JONAA (Journal of the North Atlantic and Arctic) broadens their scope of the region to include nations and cultures that may lie outside of Arctic Circle but still influence and are influenced by the Arctic. I thought the most interesting way to show this would be to create an interactive map locating where all of the 65 or so articles take place (some are regional and some are site specific). They were fully on board for this. My task was then to compile a database that listed all of the articles that have been published so far and link those to longitudes and latitudes. The idea for the map will allow for on the ground visuals to be paired with a location on the globe and the article which describes more in depths the issues. The next steps after the completion of the database will be to figure out how to translate this into a web friendly map that can easily be embedded into JONAA’s website and updated as new articles are published.


Aside from work with JONAA I have been able to explore some really beautiful nature areas such as Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet (this is the only place in the world where this rift happens above sea level. I also was able to go on a long drive up the east coast on the Ring Road to see the Jökulsárlón Glacier which is the largest in Europe. Here the receding glacier deposits house sized icebergs into a large lagoon where they float around in their ghostly and luminous blue tones until they eventually melt or are carried out to sea. It has surely been a wildly new place to explore and there is something about Iceland that makes you so aware of time at both geologic scales as well as the everyday human scale. Look forward to sharing more soon 🙂 GZ

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon

Jökulsárlón Lagoon

Jökulsárlón Lagoon


Bobby Joe Smith III, Graphic Design MFA 2020 – Part 2: Rome

Part 2: Rome — Artistic Practice in Space
July 19th, 2018
Bobby Joe Smith III
Graphic Design MFA 2020

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My Maharam Fellowship is divided into two parts. The first part took place in Standing Rock, North Dakota, away from the SaveMoneySaveLife foundation in Chicago, but deeply embedded in one of the communities SMSL looks to serve. I spent my time there conducting research and gathering visual information for my main project, which is to develop a brand that can speak to both Black and Native communities, all while handling various day to day design tasks. The second part of my fellowship takes place in Chicago, a city with which I am almost completely unfamiliar. Between those two segments of my fellowship, I took part in an artist residency in Rome concerned with creating work in public space. The summer residency in Rome isn’t officially a part of my Maharam fellowship, but the practice of navigating a public space, processing that experience, and creating something new from it is entirely related to my fellowship project and to the act of branding an organization in general. Experiencing the culture of SaveMoneySaveLife, how it operates, its history and its hopes for the future, as well as its people, then processing that experience to create a visual identity that authentically reflects the organization is what I hope to do over the remainder of the summer. There’s probably no one way to do this, but the three weeks I spent in Rome will at least give me a framework for unpacking Chicago and the SaveMoneySaveLife organization.


Bobby Joe Smtih III, Graphic Design MFA 2020 – Part 1: Standing Rock

Part 1: Standing Rock
Bobby Joe Smtih III
Graphic Design MFA 2020

Designing a visual identity is challenging. Designing something that has personal meaning to you is harder still, although ultimately more rewarding. There is a sense of ownership over the material that can make it difficult to create enough space to make critical decisions and prevent a desire for perfection from getting in the way of completion. The mission and background of the SaveMoneySaveLife foundation, which is building programs that will help Black and Native American communities, particularly connect with me as a Black and Native American designer. Begining the first leg of the Maharam Fellowship with my tribe back on the Standing Rock reservation in Fort Yates North Dakota reminded me of why I am doing this, to do my best, and also to give myself permission to have fun and make mistakes.

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At different points in my life, Ft. Yates has been home to me. Even though SaveMoneySaveLife’s office is in Chicago, one of the founders, Laundi Keepseagle, shares this home with me. It was therefore important for me to re-immerse myself in this community before heading to Chicago, the home of the other founder. The South and West sides of Chicago may seem like entirely different worlds than the rolling prairie hills of Standing Rock North Dakota. It will be my job as a designer to find the commonalities and while celebrating the unique character and complex culture and history of both places.

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I haven’t been to Standing Rock since I decided to become a graphic designer. It was interesting exploring a place that had twice been home to me with this new lens. I spent a lot of time walking about, taking photos, and observing the professional and vernacular design of the reservation. I looked at everything from road signs, tombstones, brochures, quilts, and traditional and contemporary beading. I found the graphic t-shirts that people wore marking powwow celebrations or Native humor to be particularly interesting.

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I scoured through the library of the local Tribal College—Sitting Bull College—for books on winter counts, modern Native art, and traditional Native architecture. I made friends with the librarian Mark, who gave me leads on where I could find high-resolution images of my tribe, maps, historical documents, and sound files. Mark also plays an interesting role as curator, and recently installed an exhibit on protest posters, photos, and artifacts from the NoDAPL movement which took place two years ago about a mile North from Standing Rock. I also got a tour of the Standing Rock visitor’s center. The woman who runs the center has a wealth of knowledge about the community and surrounding area, and also runs public art workshops and helps connect art buyers with local artists. The program she has built is truly inspiring and a reminder of the talent and power within our communities.

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The three weeks I was in Standing Rock I wanted to expose myself as much as possible to the visual language of my tribe—anything that could be used as potential inspiration while designing a visual identity for SMSL. I had some ideas of what to look for, but also kept myself open to being inspired by unexpected sources. It was important for me to acquire culturally specific graphic information—designs, symbols, colors that were specific to my tribe and region—as opposed to appropriating designs from other tribes or resorting to pan-Indian symbols. Being with the people, getting to feel the place’s rhythm and vibe, all of that which is a part of me will be channeled into my design work for the fellowship.


Bricks Made of Fungi! | Javier Syquia | BFA Graphic Design & BA Chemistry 2021

We did it – we made a brick completely out of fungal mycelia and disposed wood chips!


The process to get produce such a brick is actually doable for most individuals at home! Though, it took me and a few other members of my team quite a while to figure out… Here’s how we did it:

First, we started with growing plates of mycelium on Potato Dextrose Yeast Agar, or PDYA. This particular mushroom is Ganoderma; we cut a small piece of it from a fully grown mushroom, and plated it on the PDYA to start the mycelium growth. After about 5 days, the whole plate of PDYA should be covered in this white, fluffy material which is the fungal mycelia. This acts as the “roots” of fungi that gather all the necessary nutrients for growth. If the mycelia were then provided with enough nutrients and access to oxygen, the fungus will actually begin to form the fruiting bodies of mushrooms that we are all familiar with.

Though, the mycelia can grow on most things found in a household kitchen, such as used coffee grounds, cooked rice, flour, quinoa, etc.

Next, the mycelia on the plates are chopped up, and placed in a plastic bag with wood chips, some flour (to give the mycelia more nutrients to grow), and some water.

Below are four bags of the fungi with the wood chips on Day 1 of growth.


These bags are then kept in a dark area for 5 days to grow. After 5 days, the wood chips should be covered with the white, fluffy, mycelia.

We now have our foundation for making new materials! This is then mixed a bit more, and more flour is added to allow the mycelia to grow even more thus strengthening the material. After being placed in molds, we let the mycelia grow for 5 more days. After this, the wood chips should be completely covered in the mycelium, and the material is now baked at 100 degrees celcius to effectively kill the fungus, and to strengthen the material. If the material is not baked and the mycelium is still alive, the bricks may actually begin creating fruiting bodies of mushrooms, which happened with one of our bricks that was exposed with enough oxygen. Though unintentional, this provides insight into the potential of growing edible mushrooms from of walls… wild!

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We also grew the mycelium in some old cardboard boxes, as the mycelium is able to eat through cardboard and effectively become the shape of the box itself.

The white material on the outside of the cardboard box and on the inside of its lid is the mycelium eating the cardboard. If this were left for about a month to grow, it would completely consume the cardboard and take its form. This shows great potential for using old, discarded wood chips and cardboard boxes to create a material that is as strong as wood.

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Now that we have successfully grown this material out of fungus into something that can essentially take the form of any mold that we create, our team’s next goal is to propose how this can actually be implemented on Mars as a habitat for humans.

We are currently exploring the use of cyanobacteria (which is essentially algae) to feed the fungi, and provide it with the necessary Oxygen. This would eliminate the need for taking wood chips to Mars as the habitat itself grows.

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I’m thrilled to see how this project continues to grow, and to explore how NASA may implement this self-growing material on Mars.

Lastly; this is a graphic I made for our team inspired by Mycelium growth! Looking forward to talk more about what it’s like to design within the STEM field for my next post. Till next time~



Loving Philly! Kalina Winters BFA Painting 2018

This project has been a balancing act for sure. Everything is dependent on me and getting as many things done as possible, as quickly as possible just to make this happen on time. For example I just hired a graphic design graduate from my class, Mei Lenehan, to design the posters for the event. I had to have all the information solidified before she could even start working. But to have all the info just 1 month after I started is very difficult! This problem comes with added stress since one of the artists on the panel also is VERY eager to send out the poster for her email news letter. Poster now underway, venue tentative, but still shopping around.

I keep reminding myself event planners and curators need practice too!

Had a FaceTime with the third artist on the panel that I decided on; Kay Healy. SHES SO COOL and right now in Sweden for a residency! She gave me really good advice also for where to look for future funding as an artist in Philly. this is her:


She’s in front of her work… isn’t she adorable?! ❤