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From left, Catie Rencricca ’22, Ray Weng ’22 and Andrew Gao ’22 are shown working on a new website for Love Knows No Bounds, a nonprofit that works on furniture redistribution in Ithaca and Tompkins County, as part of their spring project with the Milstein Program in Technology and Humanity.

Milstein students ‘Collab’ on tech solutions in service projects

Local residents who want to donate furniture will have an easier time connecting to people in need thanks to a team of first-year students from the Milstein Program in Technology and Humanity.

Other Milstein students are creating a curriculum that they will use to teach young students in Ithaca and in Haiti the computer language Scratch. Another team traveled to Guilford College in North Carolina over spring break to design a virtual reality tour for an Underground Railroad site.

Service is an “essential piece” of the Milstein Program, according to Amy Villarejo, professor of performing and media arts and faculty director of the Milstein Program.

“It connects students to real-world implications of technology,” Villarejo said, “allows them to discover the importance of giving back as a life pursuit, and encourages them to collaborate with community partners in genuine exchange.”

The Milstein Program is for students interested in both technology and the humanities. It combines a liberal arts education in the College of Arts and Sciences with two summers taking courses and completing projects at Cornell Tech in New York City.

The inaugural Class of ’22 cohort includes 14 students chosen at the beginning of the academic year, and another 11 who were named this spring. In subsequent years, 25 members of an incoming class will be accepted into the program; eventually, there will be 100 Milstein students on campus per year.

The spring semester service projects are part of the Milstein “Collab” class, a requirement for all first-year students. The Collab combines lessons – on journalism, citizen science, data collection, privacy issues and other areas – with related projects that help build cohesion among the participants.

Catie Rencricca ’22 is on a team helping create a website for Love Knows No Bounds, the furniture redistribution organization.

“They need a way, as the organization grows, to streamline their processes and manage their data more efficiently,” Rencricca said. The website will allow people to enter information about items they need or want to donate, as well as information about pickup.

Tiffany Zhong ’22, part of the Underground Railroad team, said the focus of her team’s work changed after their trip.

“Before I went, I had this expectation that our work would be all about combining CS (computer science) and film,” she said. “But I learned so much about the history of the Underground Railroad, I realized it was more about balancing the viewpoints of the story and weaving together storytelling, history and technology.”

Their goal with the project is to help students and faculty at Guilford College create an interactive audio/video tour for a southern terminus of the railroad, centered around the New Garden community in Guilford County, North Carolina.

The students involved in the Haiti project are creating tutorial videos to help young students learn Scratch, which helps teach basic coding skills. One challenge: Many kids they’ll be reaching have never seen a computer before.

The videos will start with simple information about the main functions of a computer and connecting to Wi-Fi, said Reza Madhavan ’22. “By the end of the sixth video, they should be able to play around and create something.”

Other students in the Haiti group will collect and refurbish computers and other equipment and send them to Haiti. They are also working with the Sonje Ayiti Organization/Remember Haiti, their community partner there, to translate the Scratch tutorials into Haitian Creole.

The Scratch project team already has plans to use its curriculum with students at Tompkins-Seneca-Tioga Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES).

“We’re creating lessons plans to do our tutorials in person at BOCES because a lot of kids in the surrounding areas don’t have the opportunity to learn Scratch either,” Madhavan said.

Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

Media Contact

Rebecca Valli