Rensselaer Research Review Fall 2010
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Into Africa: Adinkra Patterns, Biofuels, and Red Cards
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As part of an on going study of methods for engaging minority students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), Ron Eglash, a professor of Science ant Technology Studies at Rensselaer, spent two weeks in Ghana with Audrey Bennett, associate professor of Language, Literature, and Communication; graduate fellows from Rensselaer; and students and faculty from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) exploring culturally situated design tools and a socially relevant HIV prevention campaign. Also part of the expedition were Rensselaer undergraduate engineering students who were were working on a biofuels project in connection with a Rensselaer exchange program with KNUST. The visit was chronicled by Ron Eglash in his blog in the New York Times.

* Eglash with students in Ghana

Ghanaian students were challenged to used Rhythm Wheels software to solve mathematical problems involving rotation and beats.

Triple Helix

Earlier this year, Eglash received a five-year, $2.9 million National Science Foundation (NSF) research grant to support the development of “The Triple Helix” project — a collaboration between universities, GK-12, and the community to engage disenfranchised students.

The grant funds up to eight graduate fellows from Rensselaer, who focus on STEM research projects related to community-based issues including health, the environment, poverty, crime, and information.

The grant's international component enabled Eglash and Bennett to transport their research to Ghana.

Cultural Design Tools

Some years ago, Eglash noticed repetitive geometric patterns in the African landscape, hairstyles, and clothing etc. His book, African Fractals, proposed using these cultural designs to teach mathematics in inner city schools. With the help of a grant from the NSF, he created culturally situated design tools, software that enables students to use the algorithms of these designs to develop their own creations.

During his recent trip to Ghana, Eglash explored using the mathematics in traditional Ghanaian music to interest students in STEM. Using Rhythm Wheels software, the students were challenged to solve some mathematical problems involving differing beats. The students were also introduced to scaling of African cornrows and created their own computer-generated beadwork based on patterns of African kente cloth.

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“Into Africa: Adinkra Patterns, Biofuels,
and Red Cards”
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