Equity, Access, Culture & Creativity in STEM

South Jamaica Homes in Queens, NY circa 1993.

My first community tech center. South Jamaica Homes in Queens, NY circa 1993. Photo by Nettrice Gaskins.

I’ve been invited to attend the Benefits Beyond Beauty: Integration of Art and Design into STEM Education and Research panel at AAAS 2013. I’m also planning to present a paper, Culturally Situated Arts-Based Learning at AERA 2013 in April. For the latter I pulled an excerpt from this AERA platform paper:

The purpose of this conference is not to require a doctrinaire adherence to one or another viewpoint. Rather, the intent is to have us come together as an academic community to discuss, debate, and consider the relationships of education and poverty.

Researchers [Coley, Vitkin, Seaton, and Yopchick, 2005; Tarlowski, 2006; NAP, 2011] describe a handful of studies that suggest that some aspects of students’ culture are influenced by whether they grow up in either urban or rural environments, and that these differences in culture impact people’s understanding of science and related areas.

Being born into a racial majority group with high levels of economic and social resources—or into a group that has historically been marginalized with low levels of economic and social resources—results in very different lived experiences that include unequal learning opportunities, challenges, and potential risks for learning and development [Banks, 2007].

My dissertation is an interdisciplinary study on culturally situated arts based learning and technology that builds on a theory of techno-vernacular creativity. I’m working to bring the arts­-based learning (ABL) community to STEM (science, technology, engineering & math) through the learning sciences, to further scientific understanding of URM interest and motivation in STEM as a model to inform current and future research. I am especially interested in how underrepresented minorities make use of whatever is is on hand to create their work. For example…

  • Jazz drummer and hip-hop producer Karriem Riggins produces music somewhere in between the analog and the digital worlds. In this video he demonstrates his practice while referencing late producer/pioneer (and former collaborator) J Dilla:

  • Micro-sculptor Willard Wigan puts art in a needle’s eye by manipulating everyday materials under a microscope. Wigan, who faced discrimination and abuse in school, retreated and sought other ways to learn about the world. Wigan experimented by learning the microscopic properties of tiny bits in order to create art.
Willard Wigan and his micro-sculpting.

Willard Wigan and his micro-sculpting. Photos courtesy Greubel Forsey.

  • Yung Jake makes use of the Internet and  the mobile web –Internet from a smartphone, tablet computer, or mobile network. He appropriates what he finds online in order to create his artwork. I just covered his work for Sundance New Frontier and Art21 in 4D Art and the Augmented Real. Y.J. told me that it was important that his work be accessible and he purposely uses open source applications.
Yung Jake. "Augmented Real," 2013. Courtesy the artist.

Yung Jake. “Augmented Real,” 2013. Courtesy the artist.

In my study I offer a cultural-historical perspective on how individuals and groups learn which offers a way to move beyond the assumption that characteristics of cultural groups are homogeneous and solely located within individuals. Culture is not a static set of traits but is something more dynamic and develops through an individual’s history of engagement in various practices [Gutiérrez and Rogoff, 2003]. From this perspective, culture becomes a question of situating the social practices and histories of groups and less about attributing certain styles to groups. In other words, culture is “the constellations of practices historically developed and dynamically shaped by communities in order to accomplish the purposes they value” [Nasir et al., 2006].

A work in progress: My research poster for GTRIC 2013.

A work in progress: My research poster for GTRIC 2013.

Although the work examples I provide are mostly by men I see myself (as a black female) actively contributing to this domain, especially through my virtual reality art. I was exposed to computers and electronic technology at an early age because my mother was a computer programmer. My younger sister became an engineer and I am an artist who sits somewhere in between programmer and ‘making.’ My passion and, perhaps, my calling is merging these different domains in order to engage underrepresented minorities. This work has been driving me for over two decades. In the first photo (above) I documented my first community-based technology center, built while I was a graduate student. I taught urban youth in a Queens, NY housing development how to use computers to make art and design like my former teachers had done for me as a teenager. The STEM connection is new but it builds on this prior work. I am getting better and better at articulating my vision.


Banks, J.A. (2007). Educating citizens in multicultural society (2nd ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.

Coley, J.D., Vitkin, A.Z., Seaton, C.E., and Yopchick, J.E. (2005). Effects of experience on relational inferences in children: The case of folk biology. In B.G. Bara, L. Barsalou, and M. Bucciarelli (Eds.), Proceedings of the 27th Annual conference of the cognitive science society (pp. 471-475). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Gutiérrez, K.D., and Rogoff, B. (2003). Cultural ways of knowing: Individual traits or repertoires of practice. Educational Researcher,32(5), 19-25.

Nasir, N.S., Rosebery, A.S., Warren B., and Lee, C.D. (2006). Learning as a cultural process: Achieving equity through diversity. In R.K. Sawyer (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences (pp. 489-504). New York: Cambridge University Press.

  1. AERA: Understanding Inequalities in Digital Media & Learning | SL Art HUD Blog Thingie:

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