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Latinx Community Engagement Grant Awarded to Team of Engineers, Art Historians, and Public Health Educators

Jorge Jimenez, a PhD candidate in bioengineering, and Marisol Villela Balderrama, a PhD student in history of art and architecture, led a team effort to earn a Year of Engagement 2020 award for “Diseño Juntxs (Design Together): Engineering and Art with the Latinx Community in Pittsburgh.” The Year of Engagement invited students, staff and faculty to create partnerships that confront challenges to engagement and co-create solutions at the institutional, local, regional, statewide, national or international levels in the 2020-21 academic year and beyond.

Diseño Juntxs (Design Together) is a series of remote bilingual (Spanish/English) workshops engaging Latinx youth in prototype design activities. The project is a co-partnership with Casa San José, a local Latinx nonprofit organization in Beechview, PA. The team was developed through the Emerging Latinx Community Research and Publishing Group (ELC), a mentoring and networking program for those interested in Latinx health issues.

Team members include Casa San José leaders – Executive Director Mrs. Monica Ruiz-Caraballo, Ms. Diana Escobar-Rivera, and José María Ochoa; faculty from public health – Dr. Patricia Documet and Dr. Sharon Ross; faculty from history of art and architecture – Dr. Sahar Hosseini; and the local undergraduate chapter of Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, led by president Cuatemohc Macias.

“Diseño Juntxs (Design Together) originated from being an active member of the ELC since late 2018,” Jimenez said. “Through our monthly meetings I learned about their community-based research focused on the emerging Latinx presence in communities like Allegheny County. Specifically, how the Latinx community obtains resources and services related to education, finances, health, housing, and social life.”

Members of the ELC have contributed to the local Latinx community by researching women’s health, parental perspectives on physical activity and healthy eating, and health education in men. Additional community projects contributed to making the Latinx presence more visible through Ojo Latino Project, a photovoice project, and Disrespecting the Border, a mural workshop. During the immediate impact of COVID-19, the ELC met remotely to share resources and work with community leaders to assess needs, and these efforts are continually transforming.

“Organizations like Casa San José served as community members’ ‘go-to’ for food security, COVID-19 testing and awareness, and social support,” Jimenez explained.

“Over the summer, Casa San José held virtual youth activities based on art and education, and I felt that I could make the biggest impact by contributing to their growing body of work,” they continued. “I shared my ideas with our ELC mentors and began to collaborate with Marisol, who has been integral in incorporating cultural and historical aspects of design in Latin America.”

Diseño Juntxs (Design Together) will focus on art and design of the Americas in the Pre-Columbian traditions and teach the engineering design process using free, bilingual 3D prototyping software (Tinkercad.com, Autodesk Inc.).

“Our culturally tailored approaches to design thinking bridge interdisciplinary perspectives, and we believe our strategy to be inclusive to our community,” Jimenez added. “I hope this project adds value to the education space as a case study in inclusive practices to teaching design.”

This project is supported with matching funds from the Swanson School of Engineering’s Dr. Mary Besterfield-Sacre, associate dean of academic affairs and director of the Engineering Education Research Center, and Dr. Jennifer Josten, department chair of history of art and architecture. A virtual ceremony was held on Nov. 16 at noon via Zoom, announcing the winners for the first cycle of Pitt’s Year of Engagement 2020.

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Author: Meagan Lenze

Contact: Leah Russell

Author: Jorge Jimenez