The Fulbright Scholar Program could be described as the Oscar of scientific research and teaching awards: it is an honor to be a finalist.
Natacha Poggio’s Fulbright bid in the US was convincing enough to secure a place in Ecuador as an alternative Fulbright candidate.
“It’s a great honor to get this far on my first attempt at such a rigorous selection process,” said Poggio, assistant professor of graphic design in the Department of Art and Communication at the College of Humanities & Social Sciences. “I think it’s a sign of the importance of the work I’m proposing – I compete with all types of scholars, including scientists – and my application for an environmental design project earned me an alternative spot.”
If Poggio moves to a senior position, she would work with students in Guayaquil, Ecuador, a port city known as the gateway to the Galapagos Islands University of the Arts. Your application includes both teaching and research components, both focused on educating the local community about the human-caused risks to the biodiversity of the area. Her dream is to empower students and community members to become informed environmentalists.
The teaching component, Poggio explained, “includes lectures and workshops for students that highlight aspects of visual communication for environmental awareness — particularly in relation to protecting marine ecosystems from human impact.” Design themes include visual literacy, composition, color, typography, editorial illustration, infographics, layout and photography. “The goal is to teach students how to create environmental communication messages across media types,” she added. “Editorial design workshops serve as a hands-on training experience.”
The research component of your application would include both student and community engagement. “If selected as the lead candidate, I plan to develop an artistic/research project in collaboration with Ecuadorian organizations that are local leaders in raising environmental awareness,” she said. Poggio laid the foundation for this collaboration during two previous trips to Ecuador. “I planned ahead before the pandemic,” she noted.
One component of their research project is a student-designed digital publication with compelling environmental messages for distribution to coastal communities. Another component is teaching local fishermen sustainable capture and release fishing practices to protect sharks and other fish in the marine biosphere. “Artisanal fishing is an important focus for local environmental nonprofits because it’s a practice that is passed down to the next generation of fishermen and creates lasting change,” Poggio said.
Given the university’s proximity to the ocean, Poggio believes the environmental communications messages will “Raising awareness of endangered species suffering from climate change, pollution and indiscriminate fishing.” Ultimately, she hopes the campaign will inspire a sense of ownership and Community among the students and the local non-profit organizations that Poggio has been in touch with during her past trips to Ecuador. “Beyond teaching design, it’s about building on the emerging environmental awareness in the community so they can continue this important work,” she said.
Poggio credits her time at UHD with inspiring a change in her teaching approach that influenced her Fulbright application. “At previous universities, I have taught social change projects to help students become the best (graphic) designers they can be by using their skills for good causes. Although there is no design program at UHD (yet), I still want to empower my students to be good citizens – to become better advocates for the planet and its people, to look for opportunities to make a difference in their education and to be themselves to advocate for social causes,” she said.
“UHD students are very receptive to this idea – they’re mature and engaged – they have a purpose. They have the willingness and interest to change their lives and their world for the better,” she noted. “If I get the Fulbright, I will bring back what I learned from the exchange in Ecuador and share it with my students.”
Her approach to teaching her students to advocate for social impact inspired Poggio to start an organization called Design Global Change with her students at the University of Hartford in 2008. Through this organization, she has received grants for design that makes a positive impact on the world.
Poggio recently received $47,905 Sappi Ideas That Matter Grant for Yasuní: Our Rainforest, Our Life, a project that will take her to Ecuador this summer. Poggio is one of six award winners this year, receiving Sappi’s prestigious and competitive award for the third time, created more than 20 years ago for designers to create “ideas that matter”.
recipient of the funds Media project La Poderosa, the non-profit organization Poggio has worked with for many years. Yasuni, A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Ecuador, is one of the most biologically diverse places on earth. Located at the junction of the Andes, Amazon and Equator, this tropical rainforest is home to hundreds of indigenous communities.
According to Poggio, the integrated multimedia campaign will support La Poderosa Media Project’s vision of transforming communities one story at a time by getting Waorani children to share their own narratives of environmental responsibility. Elements of the project include a traveling exhibition with posters illustrated by Ecuadorian artists, online content, short documentary videos, postcards and an informative children’s book illustrating the stories of wildlife in Yasuní and its unique ecosystem. The book was created by UHD students in Poggio’s ART2302 graphic design class.
What happens to her project if she doesn’t get the Fulbright award? “I’m a very determined person, and if I don’t get Fulbright funding this time, I’ll find another way to do this educational project,” she said, laughing.
“Nothing will stop me from pursuing these projects,” she said. “Ecuador is one of the most beautiful places on earth, above and below water.” She added, “I’ve been diving there, so I’ve seen this unique beauty first hand. I am committed to empowering the stewards of this incredible place on the planet – the local people – to protect this treasure – not just for themselves, but for the rest of us.”
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