grant opportunities
[collaborative spaces]




Urmila Venkatesh

By Alan Bush

“I believe that everyone has a great story to tell, and often people don’t realize their own narrative gift. I like to tell others’ stories, but more often, I like to empower others to believe their story is worth sharing. Especially when it challenges a narrative being told by a more powerful entity.”

Thus Urmila explains her passion for visual ethnographies, or the art and practice of studying particular communities and representing them visually. While primarily a photographer, she dabbles in drawing to bring to life South Asian communities in urban areas of the US. Recent work has examined “how immigrants root themselves in public spaces to create ethnic enclaves and centers of community.”
Art and community are important themes, one’s that Urmila would like to continue after her studies, either educating on or employing art as a tool for community empowerment, or developing collaborative learning centers within universities. “The Digital Media Commons is a great example of the kind of initiative I am interested in.”

When asked what figure from history she would most like to talk with, she replied, “Raghubir Singh documented his native India in an unparalleled style, with a profound ability to translate movement and power and noise into a still image.” If she had the chance to sit and talk over dinner, she would quiz him on his thoughts behind the published work, “particularly about the Western gaze, about India in a colonial and post-colonial age, about what it means to make photographs as an insider or an outsider.”

Posted in Featured People by linda on the February 27th, 2009

Alan Bush

by Urmila Venkatesh

A member of the GROCS team called ReFab, Alan is a graduate student in the School of Natural Resources. He studies Sustainable Systems, while also taking advantage of the resources in the department of Urban Planning and the Center for Complex Systems. Alan’s overarching goal is to address the needs for our urban spaces to become truly sustainable, and he hopes to identify the institutions that can, or already do, work towards this goal.

Alan grew up in Mentor, Ohio, a rustbelt town surrounded by a variety of ecological and human-made systems, and became fascinated with the relationships between these two environments. Alan moved to Southern California to attend Pomona College, majoring in a very unique concentration: Integrated Political and Economic Systems in Historical Context. Despite his Midwestern roots, he took to eternal sunshine with ease.

Alan’s fascination with the natural landscape frames the list of places he’d like to visit or return to. In addition to Malawi, Australia, and Namibia, Alan names Botswana’s Okavongo Delta and the Sundarban Islands in India as destinations that gave him “a penchant for seeing disappearing ecosystems before they are no more.” This exploratory urge is not limited to locations abroad; if he had access to a car, and an extra day in the weekend, he would be found exploring abandoned areas in Detroit. Lacking a car, however, he is happy to settle for a breakfast of Washtenaw Dairy Ice Cream and a snowy game of Frisbee golf.

Posted in Featured People by linda on the February 27th, 2009

GroupLoops Design Review 1

Is it more fun to imitate an instrument we already know on the iPhone, or to build something completely different? We take a look at a few existing music aps for the iPhone and respond to some possible GroupLoops functions.

View the video archive

Posted in Design Reviews by linda on the February 17th, 2009

Slowly Ambient Design Review 1

Slowly Ambient’s first design review featured a model of the pavilion’s joint structure, complete with actuating parts.   The team’s questions gathered thoughts and ideas about the nature of an “entrance” for the structure, weighing, especially, whether there should be a door-like part, and whether or not it should move itself in response to a human presence.

View the Video Archive

Posted in Design Reviews by linda on the February 16th, 2009

The Group that Rocks Together Stays Together

Thank you so much to Urmila for hosting the GROCS get together last Friday. Between the snacks and the songs of Rock Band, the group got a chance to get to know each other outside of the meeting setting. One of the greatest effects of the GROCS program is bringing together people of all disciplines and schools and allowing them to connect in a way that just isn’t possible in the bounds of a department. And what better way to take advantage of these connections than a party!

While it would be fun to do a gossip column style recap of the soiree, I’ll keep this short. This Friday is a double design review featuring the work of GroupLoops and Slowly Ambient Kinetic Pavilion, so look forward to a more extensive entry next week. Until then, enjoy the warmth!

Posted in Weekly Meeting Recap by on the February 11th, 2009

Jon Cohen

by Tami

Jon is a masters student in Human-Computer Interaction.  He was born and grew up in Brooklyn.  His GROCS project is about the potential of mobile devices for learning and how people can learn about how to compose music while collaborating on a group track.  He came to U of M to learn about theory and apply it in coursework.  He wants to work at an interactive agency, startup, or software company when he graduates.

Posted in Featured People by on the February 4th, 2009


by Jon Cohen

Tami, whose full name is Sentagi Sestoya Utami, is a violin-playing pre-doctoral candidate in Architectural Acoustics.  Tami is from Indonesia and her name translates into “a perfect chain of diamonds”.  She received a Fulbright Scholarship to get her masters in Acoustic Physics at Brigham Young University, and received her undergraduate degree in Architecture from an “old, big” government-run university in Indonesia.  She became an instructor there and is taking time off from work to pursue higher education.  Tami has three children, ages 9, 7, and 7 weeks.  For breakfast this morning she had rice with stir-fried vegetables and fried chicken.

Posted in Featured People by on the February 4th, 2009

Assessing the Loss – Digitizing Knowledge’s Design Review

Thanks to the Digitizing Knowledge team for taking the leap and hosting the first design review. Here’s a brief recap of what was discussed:

Colleen represented the “user” of the archives and spoke to us about her own experiences researching the US participation, and specifically the role of the University community, in the colonization of the Philippines. She talked about the “aura” and ephemeral nature of archives, and the ability to stumble upon related pieces of information when searching through a physical archive. She also introduced the power diagram the team created, and talked about the political ramifications of creating an archive. Many archives are created from the personal collection of documents donated to an institution, and the issue of who is included and who is excluded from the history that they capture is paramount.

Ricky gave a small presentation of digitizing archives, focusing on the choice to “go digital” rather than the actual technical process of turning things digital. Verifying access was a large concern – who can access the archive? How do we verify their intetions? Do we need to verify their intentions? Another large point was the privileging of textual documents in archive collections. The team hopes to focus on the digitization of images, which will help to increase the identification rate of these materials.

Kiara introduced the interview questions that the team hopes to use in the next stage of their project. As opposed to a traditional interview set up, they have constructed their questions to maximize the creation of a dialogue between the user of the archive and the creator of the archive, two groups that may not have been able to dialogue previously.

Urmilla then focused the group towards two areas of feedback the team was soliciting: the usefulness and structure of the presentation given here to help the team give the presentation in an extended format in March, and the format and content of their interview questions. Any feedback on the wrap was also welcome.

What did the group say? Check out the video in Bluestream!

Any further feedback for the team can of course be sent to the team, or to grocs.info@umich.edu

This week is a more laid back affair for the entire group to bond, chat informally and challenge one another in the epic arena of Rock Band.

Posted in Design Reviews by on the February 4th, 2009
GROCS: grant opportunities - collaborative spaces

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