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Olin Names Mimi Onuoha First "Creative-in-Reference" as Part of Initiative to Better Integrate Arts and Humanities with STEM Education

Brooklyn-based artist and researcher Mimi Onuoha has been named the first “Creative-in-Reference” at Olin College, a position established as part of a multi-step $900,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation designed to better integrate the arts and humanities within a STEM education.

Onuoha’s work examines the implications of data collection and computational categorization. In a society exposed to an overwhelming amount of data every day, Onuoha chooses to explore the information we don’t have access to or choose to ignore. She uses code, writing, interventions and objects to examine the ways in which people are represented and classified.

“The Creative-in-Reference position at Olin represents an incredible opportunity. It is as much about creating interdisciplinary engagements with sociotechnical systems as it is about considering the perspective and latitude that an arts-based approach can bring to such work. I’m extremely excited about the opportunity to contribute to this commitment with and within the Olin community,” said Onuoha.

Onuoha teaches at NYU Tisch’s Interactive Telecommunications Program where she earned her Master of Professional Studies. She was a visiting faculty member at Bennington College in 2017. She has been in residence at a variety of venues including Eyebeam Art and Technology Center, Studio XX, the Data & Society Research Institute, Columbia University’s Tow Center and the Royal College of Art.

At Olin, Onuoha will teach “Creative Approaches to Emerging Technologies,” a course that focuses on how people can actively and creatively respond to data and digital connectivity. Onuoha will collaborate with engineering faculty and students throughout her time at Olin.

The canopy project for this work is called Sketch Model, an avenue through which the arts and humanities can can do more probing and ambitious work with engineering at Olin and beyond.

Sketch Model is funded by the Mellon Foundation grant to “broaden the experience and perspective of educators and learners by providing a series of intensive engagements aimed at deep integration of arts, humanities and STEM.” In addition to the “Creative-in-Reference,” four Olin students will be offered Arts + Action Fellowships over several years to participate in summer internships with arts organizations or non-profits dedicated to the humanities. A summer workshop has also been established for 16 faculty from across STEM and the humanities at counterpart  institutions to engage with STEM faculty in collaborative design of transformative learning experiences.

“We are absolutely thrilled to welcome Mimi Onuoha to Olin as our inaugural Creative in Reference. Her work is widely admired as an example of the hybrid questions and forms the arts can take up when addressing the most challenging issues for the future of technology,” said Sara Hendren, Principal Investigator of Sketch Model. “Olin’s open disciplinary structure will allow Mimi to engage across classrooms and curricula on our campus.”   

Olin College of Engineering was founded on the premise that engineers must design with people, not just for the sake of technology. Designing solutions with people and society calls for a deliberate and nuanced understanding of technology’s impact now and in the future. While Olin arts, humanities and STEM faculty have created some exemplary classroom experiences integrating liberal and technical learning, the Mellon Foundation’s grant will facilitate the development of new contexts and collaborative encounters that integrate arts, humanities and technical learning on an unprecedented level within undergraduate curricula.