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SU students unveil Mobile Literacy Arts Bus at Nottingham High School April 3
SU students unveil Mobile Literacy Arts Bus at Nottingham High School April 3March 31, 2008Sara Millersemortim@syr.edu
Sometimes working around the clock, and often working in temperatures in the teens, a group of 10 Syracuse University students has been busily designing and installing the final elements of the Mobile Literacy Arts Bus (M-LAB), which on April 3 will receive its pilot unveiling at an event at Syracuse’s Nottingham High School. Beginning at 8:30 a.m., state Sen. David J. Valesky (D-Oneida) and Robert W. Pomfrey, president of POMCO Group, will meet with the SU student design team and tour the M-LAB as a culmination of its yearlong transformation from a traditional RV into a mobile photography and writing lab for use by high school students in the Syracuse City School District (SCSD).
The M-LAB unveiling event at Nottingham High School will acknowledge Valesky and Pomfrey for their leadership and support for the M-LAB and the Partnership for Better Education. They have both provided the funding needed to purchase and rehabilitate an RV into a functioning, mobile digital photo lab and writing classroom, where SU students will collaborate with Syracuse city high school students on projects throughout the academic year. Representatives from SU, including Chancellor and President Nancy Cantor, and from the SCSD, including Superintendent Daniel G. Lowengard, will also be a part of the April 3 event.
This April, students at Nottingham will be the first to utilize the new M-LAB and its on-board photo equipment — 60 digital cameras, four laptop computers and four high-end color printers — through a mini-pilot program part of the Partnership for Better Education. The M-LAB will be fully utilized next fall by Syracuse high school students when it travels from SU to Syracuse city high schools, providing both needed working space and technology for students in The Partnership for Better Education’s “Art, Literacy and Technology (ALT)” program.
“The Syracuse University students who have been working on the M-LAB project have already begun to see the benefits, working collaboratively across disciplines on a tangible product that will help our community. Now the Syracuse City School students will begin to benefit as well,” says Valesky. “It has been an honor to be a part of this wonderful partnership with Syracuse University, POMCO Group and all the students. It truly represents Chancellor Cantor’s vision of Scholarship in Action.”
“One of POMCO’s core values is that optimism, determination and dedication are fundamental to success , and the way this group of SU students came together to work on the M-LAB during this past year certainly demonstrates that,” says Pomfrey. “The end result of their efforts is truly something remarkable that will enrich the learning experience for Nottingham High School and other Syracuse City School students for years to come.”
The M-LAB was conceptualized and completed through an academic course, “Social Sculpture,” offered through SU’s College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA). Students in the course — both undergraduate and graduate — have been working throughout the year to redesign and refurbish the inside of a large recreational vehicle to create the M-LAB. On March 31, the student design team and “Social Sculpture” course instructor Marion Wilson, director of community initiatives for VPA, will be honored with a Chancellor’s Award for Public Engagement in recognition of their hard work and ingenuity with this community-focused project.
“This project vividly illustrates the great things that can happen when students develop a connection with their local community to create something that will engage high school students in years to come,” says Cantor. “The M-LAB will provide new resources for Syracuse high school students to cultivate their artistic identities and improve their literacy and creative imaging skills. This is precisely the kind of impact that The Partnership for Better Education was designed to have.”
“The district is extremely grateful for this great new resource provided by the M-LAB’s student design team,” says Lowengard. “Because of their efforts with this project, our students will have a new work space for instruction, allowing them to explore their worlds through photography and improve essential literacy and communication skills through their writing.”
Since the first class day of the Fall 2007 semester, SU students have been steadily gutting and refurbishing the interior of the used recreational vehicle. As part of this full, three-credit, one-time course, students formed a collaborative design team to completely modernize the functioning RV into a mobile class space. The students — most of whom have continued to dedicate many hours of work to this project, despite reaching the conclusion of the class at the end of the fall semester — are undergraduate and graduate students from VPA, the School of Architecture, the Newhouse School and The College of Arts and Sciences.
Through this course, these students were introduced to all aspects of creating a large-scale interactive public art work, including idea and design proposal, gaining approval, community interaction, fundraising, designing, re-fabricating, programming and marketing. Students researched critical texts on arts in the social realm, brainstormed with community groups to discuss issues of accessibility and programming, and provided the hands-on design and fabrication.
Of special emphasis for the students was the use of recycled materials when possible to furnish the inside of the M-LAB. For example, the SU design team contacted the Stickley Co. in Syracuse to learn about using unused wood in the M-LAB, and Stickley generously donated several cherry and oak planks, which now make up the refurbished flooring. The M-LAB’s ceiling was also replaced using donated and recycled scrap acrylics from a local company.
The Partnership for Better Education uses learning communities as the framework for focused interaction between SU and the SCSD, and works to expose students to creative approaches to arts, literacy, science and technology, engineering and math. One of the most popular programs under The Partnership for Better Education umbrella is the ALT course, a collaborative photography and writing program where SCSD high school students — taught by SU faculty and graduate students — learn to photograph scenes from their lives and then use those images as catalysts for verbal and written expression. The ALT program works to enhance students’ literacy skills using the personal experiences of photography and journal writing, and utilizes the portable digital darkroom that the M-LAB will transport.
“The M-LAB project is a tangible manifestation of ideas that the School of Architecture and Syracuse University as a whole have been encouraging,” says Zachary Seibold, a fifth-year architecture major. “A number of the ideas — most notably those of interdisciplinary and community interaction — are central to the nature and mission of this project. Participating in a design collaborative alongside artists and industrial designers has provided insight into modes of thought, design and production that one would not otherwise be exposed to.”
“The M-LAB began as the idea of a portable classroom in an RV; it has become a devoted team of artists, architects and designers working collaboratively, non-hierarchically and across disciplines,” says Wilson, instructor for the course. “From this simple idea to the more sophisticated notions of liminality, community and anthropomorphizing the object, the M-LAB succeeds. We have all stepped outside of our comfort zones to create this success.”
For more information on The Partnership for Better Education, visit http://partnership.syr.edu.