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Posts from the ‘RISD Maharam Fellows’ Category


Take a walk along misery mile, Vrinda Mathur, MID Industrial Design, 2022

Take a walk along misery mile, Vrinda Mathur, MID Industrial Design, 2022

This week, I visited a few locations in the Washington Park Neighborhood to gain an understanding of the landscape. I started my walk down Allen’s Avenue, past the hurricane barriers, and turned into Collier Point Park after I spotted unassuming signage.

The park was designed in the year 1996 by William Warner Architects and spans six acres in size with open views of the bay, fishing docks, bridges and more. The park has been in the news lately with regards to public resistance towards its ownership by Dominion Energy. I read this excerpt from the Providence Journal to learn more about the issue.

This entire stretch of land is lined by industries like Sim’s Metals, Sprague, National Electric amongst others. Naturally, the state of air and water quality is compromised and other environmental issues continue to impact the residents in nearby areas. Even though the park is landscaped and offers beautiful views of the bay, it fails to impress in comparison to other parks, especially those on the East side of Providence. The Washington Park Neighbourhood Association (WPNA) is working with the city and the Department of Transportation to beautify the area and offer ‘adopt a spot’ options to the neighboring industries.

My next stop. within a one-mile radius was Public Street. The street falls perpendicular to Allen’s Avenue and leads to a 25-foot wide view of the bay. However, this street was not as ‘public’ until a few weeks ago.

“From its name, you’d assume that Public Street was intended for the public. But before the attorney general’s office intervened last winter, fences blocked off the road’s eastern terminus where it meets the Providence River. People from low-income neighborhoods in South Providence and Washington Park were cut off from one of the few places where they could walk to the waterfront and fish.” 1

On either side of this street are grated barriers with views of the mountains. Not the beautiful, green ones but those made with coal, salt, and recycled metal parts. On discussing further with Linda Perri, the President of WPNA we spoke about visualizing a cleaner, greener space where people from the neighborhood could spend their evenings close to nature, stroll, fish, and experience the outdoors.

The neighborhood around Washington Park has a tree equity score of 63/100 and is marked in bright yellow on the tree equity analyzer. As per the State of Providence’s Urban Forest report, this area has <10% urban tree canopy while the intended canopy cover goal stands at 48%. The other crucial demographic and environmental indicators of this area include people of color, senior citizens, unemployment rates, children, people in poverty, temperature, and health index. 2

A satellite view via Google Maps highlighting Allen’s Avenue and the industrial area

No wonder Allen’s Avenue is commonly referred to as the ‘Misery Mile’. In fact, Linda and I spoke about creating some banners for the area highlighting this very issue.

Back at the SEG office, I had a team meeting with four other members across different departments including environmental advocacy, food systems, and green events to talk about some ideas and design interventions that may be useful in furthering our communication with frontline community members. I have been working on designing accessible infographics on the theme of tree equity by highlighting the equity score and embedding a call-to-action as a digital take away. In the process, I am interested in exploring the use of AI chat bots, performance artists, and potentially a website dedicated to the conversation. While a lot of these concepts are still in the planning phase, together with all stakeholders we hope to launch them over the next couple of months.

What I am most excited about is a curated walk for members of different neighbourhoods to come together and immerse themselves in an educational, invigorating walk across low and high tree canopy areas. The goal of this experience would be to bring people together, whether it is local organizations, community leaders or the community members themselves, and start a dialogue around the need of better tree canopy and its many benefits to the environment, health, wellbeing, thereby providing a platform for every person to put forth their opinion, ask questions and find a sense of togetherness.

More on that in the next blog.


2 Urban Tree Canopy Percentage by Neighbourhood: “State of Providence’s Urban Forest” Report. April 2008. Providence Parks Department, Forestry Division,,


Systems of Needs, Shreya Kaipa, BArch ’23

August 6, 2021

Teo and Margarita enjoying Ladoos I made for vendors on a market day! Ladoos are an Indian sweet; these are made with dates and sesame seeds.

My partnership with the growers and organization of Sankofa has certainly been challenging but an incredible learning opportunity. As I reflect on the past weeks, I diagramed the process I’ve been following to help myself understand the cycle I’ve been practicing.

Pattern Observation > Project Imagination > Challenges Arise. Relationship building in the center

I use “Project Imagination” as an alternative to “Solution”. I find this word choice focuses the goal as intentional responses to needs, over a problem-solution mindset.

An example was the recent sign I painted for the market! This year’s market has been a little slower than past years, and so I took on the opportunity to repaint the old market sign to be a permanent stay on the lawn.

In addition, many of the vendors and customers use plastic bags to hold their market coins (which they trade in for EBT). I asked a friend studying Textiles at RISD if they’d be able to make reusable coinbags; which they graciously did with scrap fabric. It brought the vendors so much joy, and in exchange, many free veggies for us!

Simple language for signage, to be translated into 3 languages. Sketch of illustration that could support message.

As I get to know vendors and growers by helping them in the garden or market, I have begun to notice patterns that contribute to a lack of abundance. For example, there is general disrespect from outsiders in the neighborhood to the garden. Stealing (of produce) occurs frequently, and working men drink and sleep in the garden at night. Many older women care for their beds on early mornings, and often have to confront these men. 

Sankofa was born with the intention to activate “blighted” urban lots by growing food. I’ve noticed a few abandoned lots, where a public garden could revitalize the space and offer an opportunity for those stealing. This would also foster positive relationships between those in need and growers. In this unused space, they could receive discounted produce and learn how to grow produce.

It’s important to note, theft also occurs between growers. The beds currently in Sankofa are distinguished by grower names, which may be leading to misunderstandings about garden bed ownership through language and cultural differences. The new growing space could be an opportunity for the growers to work with one another to tend for the whole garden together. Instead of beds divided by growers, they would be identified by produce kind.

Plan diagram of public garden/outreach space

Through conversations, I realized this ambition was a longer term project, due to the resources, permits, and outreach needed to bring it to fruition. And so I searched for another idea that would be feasible for the time and resources I have. 

Through conversations with advisors, I found that narrowing my focus on the grower needs might help with the challenge of constraints. When I meet growers in the garden, it is rare that more than one is tending to their plants at the same time. When there are 2 or 3 growers at a time, they keep to themselves and don’t typically interact with others. When I spoke to Ana, one of the women, about stealing, she expressed anger and frustration, but expressed she would never confront the thief, even though she has witnessed them.  

I am currently planning a signage project and system that could help grow stronger relationships between the women and mitigate stealing within the garden. Below are sketches that illustrate a grower with more knowledge sharing advice and produce with another grower.

The biggest challenge of the summer so far, has been engagement. I was originally hoping to work with this community to design an intervention; however, good places are created through tried systems and relationships. With language and scheduling differences between growers, I found this to be a much longer project for another opportunity. So instead, I’ve been focusing on one-on-one conversations, drawing, and strategic thinking seeking to illustrate what the women are asking for.

On a side note, I have been organizing a youth-led street mural project with student activism groups in Providence! This is from a recent design workshop where students were brainstorming ideas.


Groundwork RI – Developing & Model Making | Juliana Soltys, Jason Hebert | MID ’22

Intended Curriculum

Each group is at very different stages of the design cycle. Since we were unable to meet with PCF-Monday last week, we worked through the discovery phase. PVD and PCF-Thursday were both at the development stage. The main goal was to brainstorm the 2D drawings/sketches and 3D sketch models using cardboard and hot glue for the various design solutions. It was a fun, hands-on week for the youth to be creative and express themselves!

PVD Monday

It was a super hot Monday to be working outside, so we walked over to the South Providence Library next door. The librarians were very kind and generous to let us work downstairs in their community room. We set up a couple of folding tables and plugged in the hot glue, and the youth started cutting up cardboard, making 3D sketch models of trash cans. We gave them free rein to create any shape or designs they wanted; They just had to keep in mind the construction limitations and time constraints to build the cans.  

The girls decided to work together and created one larger model. They sketched out ideas and collectively constructed a rectangular bin, each taking a side to draw designs of messaging to paint on the can. The boys decided to create their sketch models but used each other to bounce off ideas. We walked around helping with construction questions and chatted about where we wanted to place the bins along Prairie Ave. 

Youth sketching and ideating trash can models
Youth using box cutters to cut cardboard and build models
Jason tallying votes of favorite trash can models

After an hour and a half of building, we came back to the greenhouse to vote on the top two designs to build full-scale models. Again, each youth voted for their two favorites, and the heart bin and trapezoid bin won!

Winning Final Designs

PCF Thursday

We took the primed planks of wood to the Hope Artiste Village to spend the afternoon painting with the youth. First, we divided and painted the 25 boards in Spanish and English using the list of vital signs. It was fun to get to know the youth better and bond about K-pop and their other interests. Then, using outdoor paint, we spent the afternoon sketching and painting colorful signs to plant (haha, no pun intended) around the garden.

Final Painted Signs
Final Painted Signs

PCF Monday 

Since we did not meet last week, we decided to spend the afternoon coming to a consensus about where we wanted to work. We spoke a bit about Hope Artiste Village and decided to continue the work at Galego. At first, we discussed solutions for soil drop-off and compost piles since they block the main path and are cumbersome. We traveled to Galego to discuss with Chandelle our ideas but soon realized that this was an area we could not intervene in our time frame and budget. After further discussion with Chandelle and the youth, we decided to focus on community engagement in terms of handing out communal veggies. Galego produces extra food, but the residents often do not know about the garden or its amenities. There is an opportunity to bridge the gap between the garden and residents through a weekly produce stand. 

We continued to ideate about what the stand was going to share with the community. It was not only going to be a place to give out extra produce but also share recipe cards. Since the garden produces veggies the residents might not usually cook with, we thought it would be essential to include a simple recipe to go with it. 

Back at the office, we used the whiteboard to sketch out ideas of what the stand could look like to draw residents to it and share the produce and information. It was important to have signage by the street and on the table for labeling the produce and recipe cards. Also, setup needs to be easy and simple enough for one person since Chandelle doesn’t have help every day. We came to a consensus on the table design and the advertising signage. 

Ideating Table Designs

Additional Activities

Jason and I are definitely not woodworkers, and there was a significant learning curve to building the trash cans. We first found plastic trash bins to go inside to hold the trash and started designing around the cans. We decided the housing should be made from 2×4’s and plywood for ease of construction and to keep costs down. Afterward, we reached out to a friend to check on our rough design and intended materials for construction. At the hardware store, we were ready to purchase materials, soon realizing that 2×4’s aren’t actually 2 inches by 4 inches. In reality, they are only 1.5 inches by 3.5 inches…a big mistake in all of our calculations…oops. Slightly frustrated and laughing at our mistakes, we sat under a pergola and recalculated all of the measurements to fit the 2×4 lengths at the store. 

Take 2 with our calculations…

We bought lumber, hardware, drills, and primer over three different hardware stores since some didn’t have the necessary materials we needed or their panel saws weren’t functioning correctly (always call ahead because it’s a 50% chance they work). Eventually, we were able to buy the necessary materials to start building one of PVD’s trash cans and get the proper materials for signs, even having to cut some planks with a pull saw (A great workout if you can’t get to the gym, 10/10 would not recommend). 

Back at the ID building, we constructed one PVD trashcan frame using 2×4’s, screws, and L-brackets. We still needed to get the plywood for the sides of the can, but that would be a trip to the hardware store for next week! We also cut down the smaller planks into 1.5 ft signs for PCF-Thursday to paint and primed the wood to protect it from wear and tear from the elements. Finally, the signs were ready for the youth to paint!


Overall, this week was highly productive but involved more backend work on our end than expected. Much of our time was spent finding and preparing the materials for the youth to work on in the following weeks. Because of time and resource limitations, we had to simplify a few concepts the youth had decided upon. Notably, we had to scrap the idea of a trapezoidal bin because of the amount of niche machining and purchasing necessary; therefore, we settled on creating a rectangular bin as a replacement. Surprisingly, finding the resources was the trickiest part of the week! Because of the obstacles mentioned previously, we had to spend more time looking than preparing. Regardless, it was a fun experience in light of the silly mistakes and obstacles that stood in our way.


Groundwork RI – Consolidate + Consensus | Jason Hebert, Juliana Soltys | MID ’22

Week 3: Consolidate + Consensus

Intended Curriculum

Week 3 came down to finding consensus over the various problems the groups noticed; the goal was to define the problem to drive the development phase. To do so, we continued to walk and talk. After some heads-down time, each person shared 3 ideas written out on sticky notes to the rest of the group. Placing them on a whiteboard, Juliana and I rearranged them to begin drawing connections and patterns. From this, a list of general problems was detailed, and the youth placed votes over the ones they were interested in. Slowly, the topics with the least votes were eliminated until only one remained. This finalized the define and discover phases.

PVD Monday

Walking on and around Prairie Avenue, the youth continued the discovery work they started the week prior. This time, the group found interest in a rundown church, the copious amounts of litter, and the low tree canopy cover. (And aside, they helped move a car that broke down at an intersection!)

At the end of the walk, we went into the South Providence library to begin finding consensus. Topics of interest included the previously mentioned church, waste, signage, and the farmstand. Many placed particular interest in the church because of the backyard space; despite the lovely greenery, veranda, and grills, it was covered with litter and felt like it lacked regular maintenance. Waste was an issue they noticed previously. They attributed the problem to the irregular placement of trash bins and an overall sense of community unawareness. Building off this, signs were discussed to help promote Groundwork and the greenhouse. Topics of the farmstand related to advertisement: produce wasn’t labeled, and passersby were sometimes hesitant over whether they could take them from the table for free. 

Despite the awkward moments, a consensus was found on addressing the waste problem with ideas to create waste bins to place around. Hosting a street clean-up event was also on the table. We were finally able to proceed with the development phase.

PCF Thursday

We first met with the Thursday Pawtucket + Central Falls group at Hope Artiste Village. Soon after, we headed to Galego garden to begin discussing problems. One youth, who lived in the community and worked there, gave us a tour of the space, highlighting the areas of concern. Sitting in the shady but itchy alcove nestled behind an overgrown path, we wrote out our thoughts on sticky notes and placed them on the whiteboard. Here, the youth were invested in garden signage, distressed pathways, weeds, and overgrowth. As it lacked overall signage, the many spaces in the garden were hidden away. Moreover, the communal spaces where produce could be taken were unbeknownst to the general public. Driving this problem further, the pathways were overgrown with weeds, with stinging nettles even making some paths dangerous. The overgrowth of these nettles and knotweed made the garden seem much smaller than it actually was. 

After discussing these problems with the garden manager, a consensus was found on signage. Landscaping was planned for the space in the future meaning the pathways and overgrowth would be addressed later. With consensus being found, we returned to Hope Artiste Village and brainstormed the plethora of necessary signs. Particularly, we wanted to point out the paths, the plots, the plants, and the supplies that made up the garden. 

PCF Monday – Cancelled

Sadly, we were unable to meet with the Monday Pawtucket/Central Falls group as they were needed for a tree stewardship event. From what we heard, they were going around to label the trees that were planted during previous tree planting sessions.

Additional Activities

As the end of the summer approached, we took it upon ourselves to begin planning out two separate events to showcase the youths’ works. Additionally, this was an opportunity to bring awareness to the Galego Garden and the Providence Greenhouse. The Galego community was open to this event; therefore, planning began immediately. Planning for the Providence event was trickier as there was yet a location in mind. We attempted to call the church that we passed by earlier; however, they were unresponsive. Event planning would have to continue the following week.


As is usually the case, the consensus-building process was overall difficult. Many of the youth were disinterested in the conversation with one even falling asleep. Additionally, getting the youth to vote for the different topics involved a lot of encouragement from the other Groundwork coordinators. We mentioned that the consensus phase is always the least interesting and most frustrating; moreover, we promised to make the development phase of their projects the most exciting. Beyond our involvement with the youth, community outreach for planning the event was tricky. Many of the organizations and individuals we contacted never returned our communications. We slowly had to eliminate potential collaborations because of this.

All in all, it was a very productive week! Many of the problems were decided, and the future of our involvement with Groundwork was becoming clearer. Our personal excitement was building.


Developing a New Visual Language Around Drug Use | Zibby Jahns | Transform UK | MFA Sculpture ’22

The overdose epidemic continues to rear its ugly head, only exacerbated but hidden by the global Covid pandemic. Decades of research have demonstrated that the “War on Drugs” has not changed society’s relationship to drugs nor limited its harm: on the contrary, the criminalization of drugs has led to mass incarceration and a staggering number of deaths, especially of young people. 

The data exists and the literature has been written that demonstrates how these mortalities can be avoided–but how to change public policy? How to change public opinion? How to lead people to dense texts on the topic? And most importantly, how to de-stigmatize some of the conceptions people have around drug use?

This July, I began my fellowship with Transform. Transform is a desk-based research organization in the UK focusing on the catastrophic effect drug policies have on communities. Transform’s educational literature and videos seek to bring attention to the harm that drug policy causes, maintaining that drugs are a health issue, not a criminal issue. The organization seeks to protect children through tighter regulations around drugs and an end to the criminalization of drug users. Transform, like so many other progressive institutions, relies on stock imagery to illustrate their points, which often reinforce particular stigmas around drug use. My proposal for this fellowship was to experiment with new forms of representation that call the initial images into question and point to the larger systemic issues at play. 

(Image: Tobacco use is at an all-time low, while 1 in 4 kids report using drugs. Tobacco use has become passe through increased regulation, taxation, and massive educational campaigns that have shifted social relationships away from cigarettes–not through prohibition. For this collage, I tried to represent young people as wearing the imagery of illicit drugs–not using the drugs in visceral, traumatic ways–to illustrate the ways that usage of substances is often a cultural phenomenon, not a criminal one.)

As we are living in a pandemic, this fellowship is remote. I have been familiarizing myself with Transform’s literature, hundreds of pages of thorough research into legal policy as well as public health. I have been pulling out data points that are extremely compelling in shifting opinion about drug use, and then sketching these moments in the most simplistic ways.

(Image: My notes from reading Transform’s literature, with quick sketches and notes to self alongside.)

I have printed out the stock imagery that Transform has used in their publications and spliced it up to make the viewer aware of the problematic nature of stigmatizing, user-focused imagery. Sometimes I juxtapose these images with photographs that Transform member Steve Rolles has taken while visiting various forms of harm reduction centers around the world (such as the Heroin Assisted Treatment Centers in Switzerland and Copenhagen; Safe Injection Sites in Vancouver; or free and decriminalized drug testing operations at festivals in the UK) to create a visual dichotomy between criminalization and mutual aid. 

(Image: For this collage, I did a simple cut and paste of a stark black and white photo of someone being arrested in grimy shadows amongst graffiti–pulled from a Transform briefing–with a color photograph of volunteers testing the validity of drugs at a festival. I wanted to very simply depict compassionate alternatives to criminalization that are already taking place so that we can encourage a more widespread application of harm reduction practices.)

Addiction and drug fatality are systemic problems, not personal ones. But all of the imagery we have ever seen on this topic focuses on an individual, draped in a hoodie, cowering in shame under the shadows of a dark alley. What were the forces that brought people who use drugs to this place? Just as the prohibition of alcohol didn’t stamp out alcoholism but did empower mafia organizations, drug addiction hasn’t been healed by a tough on crime approach. Addiction is the one neurological situation labeled as a disorder where showing symptoms precludes someone from getting treatment.

(Image: I have also been sketching in charcoal as a way to stay loose in my visual practice as I try to illustrate complex relationships in my head. This drawing was encouraged by a conversation with Maharam’s own Kevin Jankowski, where we discussed the stresses of our current world and the way some people use drugs to make peace with it, or to slow it down enough to tease out the individual elements at play.)

I share these images and experiments with the team at Transform through zoom meetings throughout the week. We have conversations about what they are working on, how particular visuals have helped to shift public opinion in the past, and what has failed. I’ve noticed in these meetings how much more interested I have become in the politics and law aspect of drug use, and how much more creatively-minded the team meetings are. We have involved conversations about how to be visually impactful.


If trees could talk, Vrinda Mathur, MID Industrial Design 2022

If trees could talk, Vrinda Mathur, MID Industrial Design, 2022

I remember the young girl who leapt across puddles on a rainy day, she climbed trees to pick fresh mulberries, swung on the monkey bars, and jumped over concrete parapets too. As children, our association with the natural environment is a strong one but, how often do we see ourselves interacting with a fresh flower bloom or the whistling leaves as adults? How often have we mindlessly walked along an arid path with a tree stumped down to half? Have we questioned why that tree stands without its supporting limbs; Branches, stems, and leaves?

Anecdotes from a conversation with self

These conversations I had with myself led me on to explore the relationship between urban forestry and the need for increased public engagement towards land restoration efforts. I started working on Treeggered as part of my graduate studio in the spring of 2021.

From the archives, a guerilla experiment conducted at Blackstone Park to encourage participation from the viewers in rebuilding forgotten trees

Through the Maharam Fellowship, I am collaborating with Social Enterprise Greenhouse (SEG) A Providence-based non-profit organization to expand its presence in the realm of environmental and social justice through increased outreach and community engagement initiatives. My research is focused on understanding how the changing climate exacerbates existing inequities for frontline communities (members of low-income/BIPOC communities) in the state of Rhode Island. 

My interest in urban ecology and social justice issues opened my eyes to the warps and wefts of both these topics. 

According to American Forests, a national non-profit conservation organization, “trees across the U.S. absorb 17.4 million tons of air pollutants, preventing 670,000 cases of asthma and other acute respiratory symptoms annually.” Conversely, places that lack tree canopy also tend to be the poorest, the hardest hit by the impacts of the climate crisis, and the most urbanized, making tree access a social justice one as well.

A recent article I read states that in 92% of the urbanized areas surveyed, low-income blocks had less tree cover than high-income blocks. On average, low-income blocks had 15.2% less tree cover and were 1.5⁰C hotter than high-income blocks.

I spent the first few weeks of my fellowship creating a network of stakeholders I could interact with in order to gain on the ground information about tree canopy and the tree equity score. For everybody new to this, as was I until a few weeks ago, a tree equity score is a tool that analyzes map data across different neighborhoods including information on existing tree canopy, population density, income, employment, surface temperature, race, age, and health. “These metrics are combined into a single score between 0 and 100. A score of 100 means that a neighborhood has achieved Tree Equity.” 3

Tree Canopy Equity via American Forests

Over the next few weeks I will be working closely with the Washington Park Neighborhood Association and local Providence tree planting organizations to investigate the factors that contribute to low tree canopy scores and their correlation to historic redlining, systemic racism and governance. I will be using a two pronged approach to the movement through my skills in art, design and systems thinking. The first, to raise awareness amongst the communities who are directly impacted by low tree canopy. The second to enable them to find a voice in the dialogue surrounding climate change and its impact on health, wellbeing and other environmental issues.

More on the how in my next blog. Until then, I am leaving you with a link to the Climate Justice Plan drafted by the City of Providence. Might I also recommend the book ‘Rising’ by Elizabeth Rush, a memoir about climate change traversing through different cities in the United States.





Reimagining First-Gen Chisme | Kansas City, KS. | Leslie Ponce-Díaz, BArch/BFA ’23

The ice cream cart within First-Gen Chisme plays an important symbol that inspires the work that I do to support First-Generation students. The paletero (ice cream man) always drew the attention within my community with ringing the bells on the ice cream cart. All the kids always ran to the ice cream cart waiting to purchase cold sweets on a hot summer day in Kansas City. This inspired me to merge my cultural background with educational resources to help grab the attention of upcoming students interested in pursuing post-secondary education. This is how First-Gen Chisme was born. I purchased a candy cart on Etsy and spray painted it to match the First-Gen Chisme color branding. I then organized folders and pencil pouches to hand out in various community events. Building the cart to hand out supplies is a poetic act that brings the attention of the youth and excites them for what First-Gen Chisme has to offer.

These are all of the individual pieces that make the First-Gen Chisme cart.
The cart take approximately 2 minutes to disassemble.

La Placita is a bi-monthly Market at Bethany Park. It features vendors, entertainment, and different forms of community organizations. It is organized by CABA, an organization that focuses on community outreach and engagement within Central Avenue located in Kansas City, KS. The Central Avenue Betterment Association (CABA) is committed to a nondiscriminatory approach and provides equal opportunity for participation and advancement in all our areas of activities, programs, events as well as work facilities.

Bethany Park faces Central Avenue Street directly. This is a very popular street where many pass by to shop near the local businesses.

My two cousins, Ashley and Mia, and my brother, Axel, volunteered for community service during the school supply giveaway at the Placita! We handed out school supplies and invited other youth to paint with us at our table. It was a great success and we had lots of fun making art and handing out supplies to families that walked by. We were able to hand out around 15 First-Gen Chisme Plushies, 40 school folders, and 30 pencil pouches.

I will be participating in another school giveaway at Central Middle School with a local non-profit organization, El Centro. El Centro, Inc. focuses on strengthening communities and improving the lives of Latinos and others through educational, social, and economic opportunities. I created four flyers to help promote the event on our social media!

As First-Gen Chisme continues to participate in community events to hand out supplies and talk about educational resources and Enough is Enough, I have begun to ponder on how this work can be sustainable and enhanced within my community in Kansas City, KS. My ultimate goal is to create a non-profit headquarters of First-Gen Chisme located in Kansas City, KS. I would like it to focus on creative arts, design, education, and architecture within the community. As a current teacher’s assistant for DownCity Design and Project Open Door, located in Providence RI, I am inspired to bring in the expression of art and design within my own community. I have realized that my community is a heavily STEM-based environment and not so much attention is given to creative arts or design. In Kansas City, MO, there is a larger opportunity for arts nonprofits, however, I would like to support my own community in Kansas City, KS through the arts because it can be an opportunity for students to reduce stress and violence through creative and artistic expression. Although I am not certain on where I would locate the non-profit, I will be focusing on a proposal site close to Bethany Park in Central Avenue Kansas City, KS. I am choosing this site as I have realized the impact that businesses have on families when located near Central Avenue. 

As a rising fourth-year student in Architecture, I will be using my architectural skills to propose a First-Gen Chisme non-profit headquarters located at 49-189 N 12 St, Kansas City, KS 66102, up the hill from Bethany Park where the school supply giveaway event was hosted. Architecture allows me to dream and propose of the possibilities of constructing First-Gen Chisme into a physical non-profit organization.

It demonstrates the site up the hill from Bethany Park where the Architecture proposal site is located.

Before designing the non-profit, I researched current non-profits within my community that have been successful for educational and youth betterment purposes. In Kansas City, what are current non-profit programs that are beneficial to the Kansas City community? I chose four non-profits to research that have been positive avenues for youth within the community.

Researching the current non-profits within my community helped me gain an understanding of the meaningful work that they are doing to enrich the experiences of youth living in Kansas City, Kansas. The majority of the non-profits focused on STEM and athletic related activities. There was only one non-profit I found that focused on providing art classes for youth within the Latino Arts Foundation.

My goal is to create a non-profit through First-Gen Chisme that focuses on creative arts, design, and educational opportunities for all students located in the Kansas City Metro Area.

Students will have access to take art/design courses taught by local Kansas City KS/MO artists in the area. This will range from music, sculpture, graphic design, architecture, painting, and more. Students will engage in different forms of problem-solving skill sets through the use of design. This is a great opportunity to engage youth in the power of design when used within communities. Students will also have access to hands-on learning as they engage with various career based fields focused in creative, design, and STEM. There will be a variety of classes and involvement activities that  students can participate in on weekends, after school, and in the summer. 

Through educational coaching and mentorship, students will have the needed skills to pursue post-secondary education. First-Gen Chisme will continue to focus on enriching the experiences of First-Generation, BIPOC, and Low-Income youth located in Kansas City, KS.

I hope to continue my inspirations with el paletero man (ice cream man) when designing how the non-profit will function. I would like to have multiple First-Gen Chisme carts that travel to various school campuses. This would help invite students to the non-profit and encourage community participation. Then the carts would travel back to the First-Gen Chisme non-profit headquarters where current and new students can participate in the programming. 

These renderings are a rough draft proposal idea, the Maharam Fellowship allows me to plant the seed for my future goal of creating my official First-Gen Chisme non-profit headquarters located in Kansas City, KS. I believe that the First-Gen Chisme non-profit “headquarters” will provide students with the adequate resources to express themselves creatively and explore opportunities for postsecondary education. I believe that art allows many individuals to voice their emotions and reduce stresses. This non-profit proposal has the opportunity to reduce gun violence within the community as it supports students in various ways. It engages students to think differently with creative problem-solving techniques where they can help their own community thrive. It has been a pleasure thinking through the possibilities of what programming this non-profit can focus on and how my own experiences with volunteering in various non-profits have been helpful when designing my own non-profit space. 

The First-Gen Chisme non-profit building includes various opportunities for learning with vibrant spaces. The space include a multi-purpose room, two meeting rooms, open-space learning centers, lounge area, public bathrooms, gardening shelter, and more.

Outside Perspective of First-Gen Chisme Non-Profit Headquarters Proposal located in Kansas City, KS.
Youth and individuals will have access in expanding their agricultural skills within First-Gen Chisme’s gardening shelter.

The upcoming goals for my Maharam Fellowship are to attend the second free school supply community event on July 24th, finalize branding designs for Enough is Enough, and reflect upon my Maharam Fellowship experience as it will soon be coming to an end in early August. Thank you for tuning in on my Maharam experience so far!

Final Brown University’s Break Through Lab (B-Lab) Updates:

To read more on my venture: 

As B-Lab comes to an end, I would like to reflect upon my experiences in being a part of such a great cohort of student-led ventures at Brown University. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to be able to pursue both the B-Lab and Maharam with First-Gen Chisme. Both of these opportunities have helped expand my knowledge in entrepreneurship and the possibilities of growth for First-Gen Chisme. I learned that First-Gen Chisme is not an “app” its more than that. Its a space that connects students together, “By First-Gen, For First-Gen”. The Mobile and Web Tech solutions that First-Gen Chisme has created, is only one part of our solutions to raising graduation rates of First-Gen, Low-Income students in post-secondary education. Our various solutions of mentorship, coaching, and educational content helps build our vision.

I learned the key aspects on, ‘thinking like an entrepreneur’, these are skills and ways of thinking that I will continue to value in my venture process. I am excited to grow First-Gen Chisme to its greatest potential and I am grateful for the mentorship and guidance I have received during my B-Lab experience. As the only RISD student on the cohort this year, I am very grateful for the opportunity of being a part of such a great community at B-Lab. My next venture steps are to think through what I want First-Gen Chisme Mobile and Web Tech solutions to look like, so they can provide the best adequate support for the First-Gen community. I will also be in search of a team seeking to work in a non-profit space to support First-Gen, Low-Income, and BIPOC students!

Below I have included my one-pager and final First-Gen Chisme presentation for the final 5-minute summer pitch event, Bears Lair, hosted on July 23rd. I am very pleased with how my pitch went and I am thankful for the mentorship I have received from Jason, Jonas, Rob, Viet, and the entire B-Lab community! I was congratulated on creating a visual presentation that is easily understood as well as connects on a personal level to the First-Gen student experience. I hope I made the RISD community proud! 🙂


Growing Patterns | Kate Reed | Industrial Design | 2021

Recap: I am an Artist in Residence at BosLab, in Cambridge, MA, researching new ways to use bacteria to dye textiles. I have successfully dyed textiles purple using Violacein.

I am fascinated with the patterns of the bacteria. Left to grow naturally, bacteria grows in beautiful fuzzy colonies, creating spotted winding paths that vein out at the edges. The patterns are so beautiful. I would love to be able to create textiles with such whimsical and natural forms.

For my first attempt to grow bacterial patterns on textiles, I placed the fabric swatches on an agar plate to grow bacteria, and I streaked the bacteria onto the textile. While I couldn’t see the bacteria from the streak, I knew that I had just placed hundreds of bacteria on the textile that would grow to be very purple. I put the plate in the incubator to grow for a few days. When I came back, the entire textile was a very deep purple. This, unfortunately, was not what I was hoping for. But I was able to get a lot more variation in the textile color and intensity, which was still exciting.

When I repeated the experiment, I noticed that the bacteria wouldn’t grow on parts of the textiles that weren’t touching the agar plate. This made sense, because the bacteria off the agar wouldn’t get the nutrients from the agar. This was a very interesting find as it allowed me to create some patterns and textures within the textile. I started to experiment with this more. I scrunched up the textiles and placed them in a plate. Again, the bacteria only grew where it touched the plate, creating the most beautiful random geometric patterns on the textile.

In my quest to create patterns, I also tried some Shibori dyeing techniques. This is a traditional Japanese technique involving methodically folding textiles into bundles to create even and consistent patterns. After I folded the bundles, I added them to the bacteria dyes, put them on heat. When I came back a few days later, the Shibori dyeing technique had worked wonderfully, creating the most beautiful square patterns.


Groundwork RI – Define + Discover | Juliana Soltys, Jason Hebert | MID ’22

Week 2: Define + Discover

Intended Curriculum

We wanted to start Week 2 with a short lecture about a general design process and different types of design. There are six steps in this process: define, discover, develop, deploy, test, and iterate. We defined each term and related it to a board game project that Juliana worked on this past semester. These steps aren’t linear; therefore, we highlighted how this is only one way of thinking about solutions. On the next page, we discussed different areas within design and had the youth call out examples. This exercise was a great way to recognize the ubiquity of design and the spectrums connecting designed goods and services! Following, we explained the levels of impact adopted from the Ashoka Systems Change Crash Course. They list four levels: direct impact, scaled direct impact, systems change, and mindset shift. GWRI is involved with all four, with one example being their tree planting initiatives. The trees have a direct impact on PVD, but also a scaled effect since they are planted in the surrounding towns as well. GWRI is involved with initiatives to fund and support more tree plantings in redlined neighborhoods and redefine our relationship with trees. After a short break, we dove deeper into the first two steps of the design process: define and discover. The define phase sets up the background for understanding, sharing, and starting a design intervention. There should be no design solutions at this stage! There are four main concepts: the problem statement, design opportunity statement, design statement, and design criteria. As an example to explain the terminology, the redlining board game was elaborated on further. As the second phase, discovering involves observing a problem and collecting data about the issue as well as benchmarking current solutions. There are two main types of research used: market and user. The youth are primarily focusing on user research through ethnographic research, demographic data, and surveys. 

PVD x PCF Monday – combined due to weather conditions

Because of the weather conditions, the two groups combined, and it was an excellent opportunity for them to get to know each other. We reintroduced ourselves and played an icebreaker game about proposing a movie. The groups had 15 minutes to develop a movie: detailing its plot, actors, and budget. They would then propose this movie to the judges (J + J and the Green Team coordinators) who decided to fund both movies. After, we had a group lecture and discussion about the design process and, in further detail, spoke about the define and discover phases. As the sky cleared up, we took that information with us and walked around the Hope Artiste Village, taking observational notes on general sights, sounds, and smells. 

PCF Thursday, July 15th 

After lecturing about the design process and systems design, we walked around Hope Artiste Village and Pawtucket, writing down observational notes. We relaxed under a tree at Baldwin Elementary and started discussing the problems we observed while walking around. The conversation shifted quickly towards Galego Garden, a Pawtucket community garden the group was working at once a week. Located in the back of the Galego public housing complex, the garden is a space for residents and community members to tend to their plots. The youth work at the garden once a week, helping with a variety of gardening tasks. With the goal of the summer to have the youth choose their project, they were more interested in working with this space. Additionally through this discussion, they were able to acknowledge a variety of problems as a group. For example, they noticed the center path is too steep to climb with a wheelbarrow, the weeds are difficult to control and lead to a low retention rate of gardeners, and the lack of advertisement and awareness about the garden amongst the community. After a successful talk, we grabbed yummy Mamacita ice cream as a treat for their attentive and thoughtful work. We left that day excited about the prospect of this space that we were unaware of prior. 

Youth walking down a street with low tree canopy cover

Additional Activities

After hearing how excited the youth were about Galego, we went to check out the 1.5-acre garden. We met Chandel, the garden coordinator, and Everett, an AmeriCorp member, who were eager to show us around the hilly, green landscape. Community gardeners grew a variety of fruits, vegetables, flowers, and some even had beehives! They were very friendly, and we sat in the shade to learn more about the lush community garden and our involvement and intentions for the student-led projects. For the upcoming week, we will work in the garden to learn about the space and struggles of maintaining the constantly evolving garden. 

Juliana standing at the entrance to the Galego Community Farm


The weather was rainy and cold, creating a sluggish PVD x PCF group. However, the youths were engaging and talkative during our discussion about the different types of design. The icebreakers also helped re-engage the youth to get them thinking and moving with their fellow team members. We used a giant paper pad to prepare the lecture notes the first week, but the paper was too flimsy and slippery. We needed something to hold the slides up and decided to get a whiteboard to pin up information and brainstorm sessions. Unfortunately, the print-out design process sheets were not an engaging form to share information, and the youth were less interested in reading and following along. 

We originally had an additional print-out with the 5 W’s + 1 H as an outline for taking observational notes on their clipboard. However, the youth didn’t use it because it was easier to have an open discussion with a designated note taker.  


Groundwork RI Introduction | Juliana Soltys, Jason Hebert | MID ’22


This summer, we are working with Groundwork Rhode Island’s (GWRI) Youth Green Teams: two groups in Central Falls/Pawtucket and one other in Providence. We meet with the Providence team at multiple locations: GWRI’s Greenhouse in South Providence and Billy Taylor Park to discuss a mural project at the West River. We additionally meet with the Central Falls/Pawtucket groups at GWRI’s office in the Hope Artiste Village and the Galego community garden. Our main goal for this collaboration is to bring the tools of design thinking and making into the hands of youth working in redlined neighborhoods, ideally giving them the power to design their own small-scale solutions within their surrounding communities effectively. We plan to hold lectures and run workshops for hands-on learning experiences. In addition, we plan to support the youth — financially, temporally, emotionally, and physically — to define a communal problem and design their unique solutions. The aim isn’t to create for these communities but to lend them support in developing on their own.

Week 1: Introductions + Icebreaker

Intended Curriculum

As it was our first time meeting the youth, we kicked off with a design-centric icebreaker. This was adapted from a class we both took last semester. The group split into pairs for this activity and set off to design a utensil for their partner – “utensils” being loosely defined. For the beginning 15 minutes, each person interviewed their partner. Questions asked included, but were not limited to, “what utensils do you prefer,” “are you right- or left-handed,” and “what is your favorite color?” With that information, everyone dove into sketching and making utensils. Available materials included playdough, wooden sticks, hot glue, and wire; moreover, tools included utility knives, pliers, and elbow grease. Halfway through, partners exchanged whatever utensil they had made thus far with their partners to gather feedback to further progress. This small part of the project parallels testing and iteration in the design process. Soon after, the youth returned to making. With only 10 minutes left, everyone was told to hand off their final utensils and, in a circle, describe the essential elements of their customized utensils. The ultimate goal of this activity was to quickly introduce the youth to a simple use-case of the design process and create a comfortable space for open communication and fun!

PVD Monday, July 5th

On Monday, July 5th, we met the first group of youth – a group of 8 adolescents ranging from 14-18 who grew up in Providence’s redlined neighborhoods. We kicked off with the intended curriculum outlined above, and the quirks of this group quickly emerged. The group was energetic and creative. Some found interest in communicating with their partner to learn about what they were interested in, and others were more absorbed in the sketching or modeling processes. Regardless, the group was diverse and lively; moreover, the utensils they made were cool and creative. Before heading out, we gathered around to pull and tie some garlic. 

Youth working through the design process creating utensils for their partner.

Utensils designed and created by PVD youth

*two utensils were omitted because they were deconstructed before we could document them

PCF Thursday

At Groundwork Rhode Island’s main office in the Hope Artiste Village, we met with the first Pawtucket and Central Falls youth group on Thursday, July 8th. The group was small, with only three youth, one of the PCF coordinators, and us. After going around and introducing ourselves, we turned on some K-pop and got to work with the utensil workshop! We paired off to begin the pre-planned curriculum that was successful with the PVD group; however, this time, the energy in the room was off — we believe it was because it was the first day, the weather was gloomy, and interest in the activity was low. Regardless, there was good fun involved, and most of the youth understood and fulfilled the assignment. It was, generally, a good icebreaker activity. The utensils made are seen in the image below:

Utensils created by PCF Thursday Group

We planned to meet with only the second Pawtucket and Central Falls (PCF) group on Monday the 12th; however, due to weather conditions, we had to join the Providence and PCF teams. 


Perhaps due to the good weather, nearby garden, and full bellies, we ran into few problems with the Providence group during this entire kick-off. Most of the youth were attentive and communicative. Many were creative; however, some ran into artist block from the start. Talking between partners mainly was sustained throughout the process, and the most talkative shared that they were very interested in the user research process. The rest were primarily interested in the making process, with many fiddling with the materials even after the activity.

Despite the highlights, the trickiest part with the first PCF group was getting them to interview each other to get the information necessary to make their partner a catered utensil. From the start, some youth were not interested in the discussion part of the activity and instead found interest in the act of making and playing with the materials. Knowing this, we can cater their personalized curriculum to involve more hands-on, making activities over sit-down discussion activities.

Additional Activities

Outside of these meetings, we met an additional time with the PVD team on July 7th at Billy Taylor Park to hear from the local artist, Ysanel, to discuss the role of place-based public art in social justice movements. Ysanel is known for painting the electrical boxes around Providence with feminist figures! The reason for this meeting was to begin a discussion about a mural that would bring awareness to the hidden West River near the Stop & Shop off Branch Avenue. Located on the fittingly named West River Street, the wall would be painted with imagery decided by the Providence youth team. Currently, the West River is heavily polluted with trash, and cleanup was planned for the 10th but was rescheduled because of weather conditions.

PVD Group visiting the West River with Ysanel