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The List Foundation Fellowships in the Arts for Students of Color have been awarded to two students for explorations in cultural diversity -- one through the dances and costumes of her ancestral home and one through illustrated fantasy stories examining the origins of different cultures.
Zojeila Itzel Flores, a junior in biology from Corona, CA, received a fellowship to study Panamanian folklore or "La Pollera y sus Bailes."
Rigel Stuh-miller, a senior in architecture from Rancho Santa Fe, CA, will use her fellowship to explore the origins of cultural diversity by writing and illustrating a series of connected fantasy stories in a project titled Infinity.
Ms. Flores, whose mother comes from the Republic of Panamï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½, first learned that country's traditional dances from her grandmother. "I remember feeling part of the culture and of my family," Ms. Flores said. "I know how it felt, but I want to know what it meansï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ to [learn] this history of the dances, their significance and their purpose."
In addition to traveling to Panamï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ to study four of its unique dances, Ms. Flores will design and help construct an elaborate traditional dress, "La Pollera," which is now a symbol of Panamanian nationality. She will make a video documentary of the complicated creation of the dress, and upon completion of the project she'll share the documentary and the dances with the MIT community in a public presentation.
Ms. Stuhmiller, who plans to culminate her project with a book of three or four stories, each examining a culture and its origins in depth, wrote that "understanding the sources [of cultural diversity] can demystify other cultures and thus promote tolerance.
"The reader will be able to understand how art could influence science, how trends in the weather pattern could change the way we feel about gender differences, or how a culture's literature could spur space exploration," she continued. "This might heighten readers' imagination and curiosity about subjects they haven't thought to explore."
Established in 1992 with support from the Albert A. List Foundation, the List Fellowship was created "to encourage a broad range of artistic endeavor and to further cultural investigation, affirmation and understanding through the arts by supporting students of color in their exploration of traditional and nontraditional art forms."
The fellowship awards up to $5,000 annually to two MIT students to support the year-long pursuit of a project in the performing, visual or literary arts, including a mentorship program to work with established artists of color. The program is administered by Maureen Costello, director of Special Programs in the Office of the Arts.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 16, 1998.