Bee-Education Project Takes Flight

honeybeeBees will find a home on campus next year as part of our sustainability efforts.

FIT Hives, a bee-education project developed by students Shona Neary, a Fine Arts major and Sarah Langenbach, a Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing major, will set up an actual  bee hive here on campus next semester.

“FIT has many of industry’s future creators, so it is important to make the community at FIT think about where they get their supplies and resources,” Sarah said. The team’s bee-education message is that “everything is connected” and the use natural products in cosmetics helps “sustain a full-circle loop in our economy.”

Shona and Sarah recently presented FIT Hives at the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) held this year at the University of California in Berkeley. Sarah described the meeting as “an incredible experience,” adding that “CGIU facilitated idea sharing, provided skill-building workshops, and hosted many compelling and fascinating speakers.”

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Sarah Langenbach and Shōna Neary at NYC’s Bee Village in Battery Park

The project is first funded through our Innovation Grant program, launched in 2015 from FIT’s Office of Academic Affairs, with help from the Division of Enrollment Management and Student Success and the FIT Student Association. The grants support collaborative projects that cross academic disciplines and stretch intellectual and artistic boundaries.

In addition to meeting those criteria, Sarah and Shona’s project is timely. Apis mellifera Linnaeus, commonly known as the honeybee, is under severe threat from “colony collapse disorder.” Scientists have put forth a range of theories for the cause of the disorder, ranging from environmental factors to the use of new, potentially dangerous pesticides.

You might be surprised to learn that, as though in response to the threat to bees, New York City has become a “hive” of urban beekeeping activity. As of 2014, more than 250 honeybee hives had been registered with the city, according to The New York Times. So, Sarah and Shona have ready bee resources here in the city as they decide on a campus location for the hive and work to find an experienced bee keeper to care for the hive year-round.

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Sourcing a possible location for a hive on one of FIT’s green roofs.

The grant also supports a documentary focused on bees in the environment with an emphasis on the fine arts and cosmetics industries. Max Hechtman and Shoshana Rabinowitz, students in our Film and Media program, will assist in the creation of the documentary, which will be shown to the campus community early in the 2016 fall semester.

I am so pleased to see the creative and innovative approaches our students bring to all issues, and I look forward to watching FIT Hives blossom here at home and out beyond the borders of FIT.

» See more photos and learn more about the project at the FIT HIVES Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/FITHIVES/

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FIT Students Present Three Proposals at Clinton Global Initiative University

The blossoming relationship between FIT and the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U), I am happy to report, continues to flourish.

A year ago, I posted about a pair of FIT students—Lydia Baird and Willa Tsokanis—who presented their plans for an innovative muslin-composting project at the 2015 CGI U in Miami. Their project is now fully functioning and the nutrient-rich material the project produces is used all over campus in our many green spaces and on our green roof system.

The year before that, three of our students — Caitlin Powell, Amber Harkonen, and Meghan Navoy — attended the 2014 CGI U to present their proposal to develop the natural dye garden, now in place on the 9th floor terrace of the Feldman Center, which also happens to make use of the composted muslin.

Both projects grew out of grants from FIT’s Sustainability Council, which I initiated to develop and foster sustainability initiatives throughout our community.

l-r: Sarah Langenbach, Shona Neary, Jillian Oderwald, Amanda Farr, Sabrya Said, Ayodele Myers

Now, I am proud to say that in early April, FIT students presented not just one, but three innovative project proposals at the 2016 CGI U, hosted by President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton at the University of California, Berkeley. The CGI U is highly competitive, with only about one in six projects accepted for presentation.

Three cheers are in order for FIT and our many student presenters and their winning proposals at this year’s CGI U.

FIT HIVES, developed by Shona Neary, a Fine Arts major, and Sarah Langenbach, a Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing major, would establish a bee education program by setting up a bee hive at FIT. Students from the Film and Media Program will make a documentary as the project progresses. Currently, Ms. Neary and Ms. Langenbach are in discussions with beekeepers and Host-a-Hive programs to identify possible locations for the hive and to find a beekeeper who could care for the hive year-round. They also are working to educate FIT students about the importance of bees in the environment, with the goal of connecting FIT students with local beekeepers to develop sustainable, bee-derived resources for projects, products, and designs.

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FIT Natural Dye Garden: Next Phase, developed by Jillian Oderwald, a Textile Development and Marketing major, and Amanda Farr, a Fashion Business Management major, advances the work of the FIT Natural Dye Garden. The Dye Garden promotes sustainable and eco-friendly dyeing practices. The project would increase outreach beyond FIT via social media, through Facebook and Instagram, as well as a stand-alone website on how to plant a garden or conduct research. Further outreach may include tours of the garden and workshops on natural dyeing for students in local schools.

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STEAM Into Action, developed by Sabrya Said, an Advertising and Marketing Communications major, and Ayodele Myers, a Fashion Business Management major, adds an “A” for “art” to the STEM acronym (science, technology, engineering, and math). The project would hold workshops on campus to introduce underrepresented students in middle and high school to opportunities in tech, arts, and higher education. FIT students would invite students from area schools to participate in workshops and mentorship programs and serve as role models for the younger students.

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I wish all three presentation teams, and the FIT faculty members who helped shepherd them along the way, continued success as their projects make the transition from proposal to real-world implementation.

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Edit the Statistic

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What a delight to see every workstation occupied with student writers and editors typing away in the computer lab at Gladys Marcus Library for the Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon. A quick glance revealed students working on pages ranging from “Pattern Grading” to “Gothic Cathedrals” to the “British Fashion Council,” to name just a few.

The event, which took place on International Women’s Day, ties in with a broad-based effort by the Wikimedia Foundation, the online encyclopedia’s parent organization, to address the gender imbalance among editors of Wikipedia, the seventh most viewed website in the world.

Helen Lane, Emerging Technologies Librarian, who helped bring the event to campus, explained that only 8.5 percent of Wikipedia’s volunteer contributors are female. She and Stephenie Futch, a member of our Technology Development Team, organized the event as part of the Women and Technology: Symposium. They want to encourage student editors to make entries and edits to address the unequal representation of women on the site, and they received Diversity Grant funding to help make the event happen.

“We want to engage women and the entire campus community with a fairly easy way to access a technological experience,” Professor Lane said. “A lot of women shy away from the hard technical aspects of the digital world. And this event is one way for everyone to get involved without a huge technical literacy.”

The underrepresentation on the site isn’t limited to gender. Art and design topics tend to be marginalized. As an example, Professor Lane cited the page on Ruth Ansel, an important and influential graphic designer. Ansel worked at major fashion magazines for more than 40 years and won a lifetime achievement award in 2016 that is the equivalent of an Oscar in her profession. But the Wikipedia entry on her is just three paragraphs.

“Meanwhile,” Professor Lane adds, “every single Pokemon character has extensive representation.”

Sarah Gold, an ITM major, who has edited Wikipedia pages in the past, was busily working on pages related to international trade. She also planned to work on a page for Trash and Vaudeville, a punk-fashion landmark on the Lower East Side.

“I’m learning how to start a new topic page,” Ms. Gold said. “But I’ve also been able to use the library research tools to insert better-quality citations for existing pages.”

Unequal representation on Wikipedia is changed one page at a time, it seems, and the FIT community is right there, as always, leading the way.

When I initiated the Diversity Fund Grant some years ago, I had no way of knowing exactly what sort of projects would grow out of it. And so, as our computer lab is transformed into a hive of paradigm-shifting digital activity by FIT librarians and students, it is truly gratifying to see, on International Women’s Day, that growth in action.

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Admissions Anxiety Addressed by Harvard Initiative

In this country, almost every teenager thinking of going to college faces the application  process with excitement…but also with dread. Applications, after all, are impossibly complicated and criteria for acceptance impossibly daunting, especially for the more selective colleges and universities. To say that the competition is fierce—and probably unfair—hardly does it justice, and at bottom, you have to wonder what kind of a message this process is sending to young people about the mission of education. As the New York Times columnist Frank Bruni noted recently, “…(it) warps the values of students drawn into a competitive frenzy. It jeopardizes their mental health. And it fails to include—and identify the potential—in enough kids from less privileged backgrounds.”

That’s why I was so pleased to see a report out of Harvard last month calling for a dramatic shift in the application process—a shift that emphasizes the values of good citizenship rather than personal achievement. The report, called “Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions,” was designed by the Harvard Graduate School of Education and has been endorsed by 85 stakeholders in higher education, presidents, admissions officers, deans, professors and high school counselors. The author of the report was motivated, at least in part, by research he had conducted in which he asked 10,000 middle and high school students what mattered most: high individual achievement, happiness, or caring for others. Only 22 percent said caring for others.

The new report examines how the current application process contributes to that outcome, with its overemphasis on SAT scores, excessive AP classes and long lists of extracurricular and volunteer activities—what the author calls “brag sheets.” According to the report, the admissions process also needs to redefine achievement in ways that create “greater equity and access for economically diverse students.” Among its recommendations is that colleges should prioritize quality—rather than quantity—of extracurricular and volunteer activities, and that those activities demonstrate authentic and sustained engagement. I was especially pleased to see the report’s strong emphasis on the high value that should be placed on students’ contributions to their households: caring for siblings or sick relatives, for instance, or working to help support the family.

This not only helps to level the playing field for students from less affluent families but it also speaks well and loudly to a student’s character. The report recommends that colleges discourage students from “overloading” on AP courses and warns students, parents, and high school counselors that colleges are more and more alert to “coached” applications that do not reflect the student’s authentic voice. SAT and ACT scores are also targeted with recommendations that they become optional and that colleges describe clearly how they are related to academic performance at their institutions. In effect, the recommendations are designed to make the admissions process “more humane, less super-human,” to quote The Washington Post.

Now, as you know, reports on education are issued by the dozens every year. What encourages me about this one is that it was spearheaded, conducted, and enthusiastically endorsed by Harvard, which is one of the country’s most elite, most selective colleges with over 37,000 applicants for fewer than 2000 seats in its freshman class. It has been equally enthusiastically endorsed by many other elite institutions, such as MIT, Yale, the University of Michigan, and a growing list of others, some of which have already instituted some of the recommendations.

So what does it mean for FIT? FIT is selective in its own way. But this is not a traditional liberal arts college and although we have very high standards, our approach to admissions is very different. Since students are admitted into a major, they are evaluated on the basis of qualities such as focus and drive and, indeed, character—qualities that are reflected in a student’s essay, for instance, just as design talent can be demonstrated in a portfolio. A student’s academic record is important, of course, but we are generally unimpressed by a long list of AP courses. Moreover, SAT and ACT tests are not required of the general student population, and if students provide them, they are used for English and math placement purposes only. I don’t mean to say that prospective students don’t feel pressure when they apply—of course they do. And to some degree they should because it only reflects how much they care. But our bottom line is the question we always ask regarding every applicant: can this student succeed here? And I think that helps keep our process “more humane.”

My hope is that the excitement this report has generated among admissions officers and other higher education officials keeps building, that its influence spreads. and that its recommendations are widely adopted. What a difference that could make in the lives of students starting their college preparations. And perhaps, if the author of the report is right, our future college applicants will find “caring for others” more important than “high individual achievement.”

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Documenting a Disappearing Way of Life

praveen-chaudhry-03I am always glad to have an opportunity to share the amazing variety of work our faculty produce at FIT. We have such an opportunity in the campus showing of Praveen Chaudhry’s moving photography exhibit, Invisible Nomads of the Himalayas: A Life Caught in Turmoil. At a faculty convocation last year, I asked Chaudhry to share photographs of his travels with the nomadic tribespeople in the mountainous areas of China and India, where political and military forces have nearly eradicated the nomadic way of life that has for centuries been the center of production of cashmere and pashmina. The stories he told were as chilling as they were enlightening.

“All indigenous cultures are under enormous pressure and many are disappearing,” said Professor Chaudhry, a political scientist who is a member of our Social Sciences department. “The nomadic cultures I travelled with will all be gone in 10 years. But these are remarkable people. They are culturally significant, especially for anyone interested in the study of diversity and cooperation. These Buddhist shepherds and Muslim weavers have been cooperating in peace in the harshest of environments to make pashmina for hundreds of years.”

Professor Chaudhry describes his work as “visual anthropology,” and his success in taking meaningful images is, he says, a result of living and travelling with his subjects for months at a time, often through arduous conditions. None of the photos are staged because he lived among these communities long enough so that people were comfortable with him and allowed him inside their personal worlds.

Professor Chaudhry took a photography course on campus and credits the photography department for helping him develop his considerable skill. He hopes to publish the photographs as a book—and I certainly hope he will.

The exhibit, which has been shown at galleries here in the U.S. as well as in India and Mexico, is on view in the lobby of the Marvin Feldman building through February 26. Professor Chaudhry will give a talk and slide presentation of his work on Wednesday, February 24, at 6:00 pm in the Katie Murphy Amphitheater. The talk is sponsored jointly by the Presidential Scholars program and the dean of the School of Liberal Arts.

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