en English

Afro-Colombian Youth at Astrophysics Center, Harvard University. STEAM

When: July 2017
Where: Cambridge, MA
Institution: Astrophysics Center, Harvard University – STEAM

 

A Pre-Texts workshop was held for visiting students from Chocó (Colombia) at Harvard University. The visit was part of Harvard’s new Afro-Latin America on STEAM initiative. Participants played with a scientific text on Astrodynamics provided by Pre-Texts collaborator Bonnie Prado, PhD candidate in Aerospace Engineering at Purdue University.

Screen Shot 2020-04-13 at 12.49.17 PM.pn

On Friday, June 30 and Saturday, July 1, 2017, a group of 20 high-school students from the remote Afro-Pacific area of Chocó in Colombia came to Harvard to participate in a workshop as part of Harvard’s new Afro-Latin America on STEAM initiative, which aims to create innovative interventions in Latin America that combine Science & Engineering with the Arts & Humanities, with a special emphasis placed on disadvantaged communities of African descent.

The high-school students came from 17 educational institutions located across Chocó. As beneficiaries of the program New Chocó’s Leaders and Excellent Youth, the students had the opportunity to enhance their creativity and leadership through the Pre-Texts protocol.

The workshop was divided in 3-sessions in which the students experimented with an academic article titled, “Trajectory Options for Human Missions to Mars.” Complementary to the workshop, the students visited the Hiphop Archive & Research Institute, the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art, the Harvard Art Museums, and the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments.

1200px-Light_Bulb_or_Idea_Flat_Icon_VectAfro-Colombian Youth Leaders at Harvard

The visit was part of Harvard’s new Afro-Latin America on STEAM initiative

 

On Friday, June 30 and Saturday, July 1, a group of 20 high school students from the remote Afro-Pacific area of Chocó in Colombia (South America) came to Harvard to participate in a workshop as part of Harvard’s new Afro-Latin America on STEAM initiative. The initiative aims to create innovative interventions in Latin America that combine Science & Engineering with the Arts & Humanities, with special emphasis placed on disadvantaged communities of African descent.

The students came from 17 schools located across Chocó. As beneficiaries of the program New Chocó’s Leaders and Excellent Youth, the students had the opportunity to enhance their creativity and leadership through the protocol Pre-Texts, created by Professor Doris Sommer of the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, and African and African American Studies. Pre-Texts is a simple pedagogical protocol for dealing with difficult texts: it calls for using them as raw material for making art in any genre participants choose.

The workshop was divided into 3 sessions in which the students experimented with an academic article titled, “Trajectory Options for Human Missions to Mars.” Sommer readily admitted that she did not understand the article, though she continued to facilitate the protocol. Facilitators are not experts; they count on experts and on student initiative. After everyone asked a question of the text, she invited students to propose arts activities that they would enjoy and that would lead us all to understand the technical article. One student reasoned that, since the text was about three trajectory options, we could break up into three dance companies and prepare performances of each option, to perform for the whole group. That’s what we did. The next 30 minutes were dedicated to developing choreographies in consultation with scientists in the room. By the final moment of the protocol, when we ask “What did we do?” to stimulate reflection, many participants commented that they had begun to understand the article and that they were curious to understand more.

In conjunction with the workshop, the students visited the Hiphop Archive & Research Institute, the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art, the Harvard Art Museums, and the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments. While in the Harvard Art Museums, the prompt for a Pre-Texts session was to make a graphic novel based on the text we were exploring. Students visited the Roman and Greek art galleries, as well as the current exhibition, “The Philosophy Chamber: Art and Science in Harvard’s Teaching Cabinet, 1766-1820.” Their mission was to find images, characters, or illustrations to serve as the raw material for their own comics with quotes and elements from the Mars text. The graphic novels produced range from a story about a female scientist from Chocó who traveled to space to tales of journeys to unknown corners of the Red Planet.

Additionally, the Banneker-Aztlán Institute hosted an informal meet-and-greet lunch for the visiting students. The lunch was a great opportunity to meet members of the international scientific minority community and exchange experiences about academic life as scientists. At the end of the second day, one of the participants said regarding the workshop: “as a result of projects developed within this methodology, you can observe the art that a person engages with, because we could demonstrate our talents through Pre-Texts.” Moreover, one of the teachers who accompanied the group mentioned: “we have read the text in so many ways but always with the same purpose: to read! I look forward to using this methodology in my classes and finding any pretext to read with my students.”

The program, New Chocó’s Leaders and Excellent Youth, is sponsored by the Chocó government in partnership with Wheelock College. At Harvard, Dr. Antonio Copete, Postdoctoral Associate at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; Maria Paula Garcia Mosquera, Cultural Agents’ intern; and Professor Sommer led the organization for the visit of this group of outstanding youth leaders.