The Undervalued Currency of Culture in Higher Education | MIT J-WEL

The Undervalued Currency of Culture in Higher Education

J-WEL Connections - October 2020  >  Program  >  The Undervalued Currency of Culture in Higher Education

Session Recording

Session Description

The MIT-Haiti Initiative, founded in 2010, has from the outset espoused the educational values of active learning, use of technology, and especially use of the mother tongue. In 2019, Professors Michel DeGraff (MIT Linguistics) and Haynes Miller (MIT Mathematics) won a J-WEL pK-12 grant to develop the Platfòm MIT-Ayiti, designed to collect and curate educational material in Haitian Creole (Kreyòl) for Haitian classroom use, capturing best practice and innovation by Haitian teachers. In the spring of 2020, Professor Jeffrey Toney (Provost and Vice-President of Research and Faculty at Kean University and Visiting Professor at MIT Linguistics & Philosophy) proposed to engage and support two Haitian-American undergraduates at Kean (Laissa Moïse and Jemima Morinvil) as interns working on Platfòm MIT-Ayiti, alongside Kean physics professor Paul Belony as faculty mentor. The interns’ work over the summer, and continuing through this year, has proven to be not only of immense value to the Platfòm, but also of great value to themselves, affirming and valorizing their own native language and cultural background.

Our entire team, including our lead communications director Ezra Remer, see this as a model for the creation of genuine student experiences going beyond the “You are welcome here” sign—experiences that embrace and affirm students’ distinct linguistic and cultural inheritances while simultaneously enriching academia with novel pedagogical perspectives and methods that can truly open up education for all.  Rather than rewarding students to adapt to higher education’s normative gaze, we believe that colleges and universities can strengthen and broaden the impact of their research and enhance teaching and learning by including, and adapting to, the rich diversity of faculty and students.

Session Format

Links below are to descriptions of how this session will be conducted. Please review in advance of the session.

Speaker Biographies

Dr. Paul Belony
Lecturer, Physics
Kean University

Dr. Belony is a physics lecturer at Kean University and a highly gifted experimental physicist with expert understanding of non-ideal plasma, high power circuitry, optical spectroscopy, and computational modeling.  He is the president and founder of Belony Scientific, LLC, which is a scientific company with a vision to implement research and development in renewable energy and agriculture.

Dr. Belony is the leader of the physics team at the MIT-Haiti Initiative, a program led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, implementing Technology Enabled Active Learning in Haiti and serving as a model throughout the world while promoting native languages as the essential thread and modern scientific tools as the needle to weave the fabric of scientific education. Dr. Belony also serves as a Creole <-> English translator for STEM aspects of this program. 

Dr. Belony has led several workshops in Haiti for the MIT-Haiti Initiative where new tools were implemented for hands-on laboratory work and in-lecture demonstrations.
Prof. Michel DeGraff
Professor of Linguistics
Director of MIT-Haiti Initiative
Founding Member of Akademi Kreyòl Ayisyen

Professor Michel DeGraff joined MIT’s Department of Linguistics & Philosophy in the Fall of 1996. Professor DeGraff obtained his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania in 1992. His current research focuses on the development and structures of Creole languages, with most attention to his native Haitian Creole ("Kreyòl").  Major results of this research include a series of ongoing paradigm shifts both in linguistics (especially Creole studies) and in the use of Creole languages in education and research (especially with respect to his native Haiti).  In both linguistics and education, DeGraff’s research is ushering a more inclusive and equitable approach to Creole languages and their speakers.  DeGraff is co-founder and co-director of the MIT-Haiti Initiative http://MIT-Ayiti.NET for improving education in Haiti through the strategic use of digital and non-digital resources in Kreyòl for active learning. The MIT-Haiti Initiative, through a constructive intersection between linguistics and education, is setting up a global model for opening up access to quality education via the use of local languages in the design of high-quality active learning methods and materials.  The most recent advance in this Initiative is the launch, in September 2019, of a JWEL-funded digital platform http://MIT-Ayiti.NET for the curated crowdsourcing and sharing of educational resources in Kreyòl in all disciplines and at all grade levels.  More details at: http://MIT-Ayiti.NET
Prof. Haynes Miller
Professor of Mathematics, MIT

Haynes Miller has been Professor of Mathematics at MIT since 1986. His research is in algebraic topology, and he has directed some thirty PhD theses in the subject. He has served as editor for eleven disciplinary journals, including as Managing Editor of the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society. In 2005 he was named a MacVicar Faculty Fellow, the highest teaching honor at MIT. He created the MIT Mathlets -- a collection of computer-based mathematical manipulatives, now seamlessly integrated into MITx mathematics courses -- and the ongoing Electronic Seminar on Mathematics Education. He is a core faculty supporter of the MIT-Haiti Initiative, a project promoting active learning and use in schools of Haitian Kreyòl. Miller was a local organizer of the Third Annual Gathering for Science in Palestine at MIT in January 2020.
Laissa Moïse
Undergraduate Student in Biology Health
Kean University

Laissa M Moise is originally from Port-au-Prince, Haiti where she completed high school. She is currently a senior student at Kean University majoring in biology health profession. She earned an associate's degree in biology at Union County College. Her career interest is centered on osteopathic medicine. She is specifically interested in Orthopedic Surgery. 

Laissa is a Direct Support Professional. She has been working at Arc of Union Country for 4 years. Her principal duty is to care for and support adults with developmental disabilities. She speaks and writes fluent Haitian Creole, English, and French.
Jemima Morinvil
Undergraduate Student in Biology
Kean University

A firm believer of Jesus Christ, Jemima Morinvil is a Biology student at Kean University with a deep passion to learn and fulfill the purpose God has placed in her life. Currently a church assistant/musician, she most enjoys being a volunteer Sunday school teacher. She loves her job of teaching children to be the best that they can be and is an active church member who voluntarily cleans the church every Saturday. One of her biggest achievements is becoming a Sunday school teacher. Being a Sunday school teacher has taught her how to communicate, show compassion and understanding, and how to spark excitement of learning in children.

Learning and understanding new material is what motivates her love for education. She currently has a 3.5 grade point average and have the goal of raising it even higher. She is motivated by challenges from courses and good teachers, by gaining knowledge on the subject at hand, and by excelling in courses. She was awarded the dean’s list a few times. Some of her long-term goals are to receive scholarships, go to medical school, and become an OB/GYN.  Her dream is to share her accomplishments with the Haitian people by opening an OB/GYN clinic in Haiti. 
Ezra Remer
Director of Communications
MIT-Ayiti Initiative

Ezra Remer is a native of New Orleans, Louisiana. He recently graduated from the University of Miami with a B.S.C in Documentary Film Production. In 2017, Ezra founded the Dominica Coffee Revitalization Initiative (DCRI), a nonprofit focused on sustainable hurricane recovery through innovative coffee agroforestry methods. Remer has directed and produced numerous documentaries including an award-winning film on the DCRI, "Powerful Little Island," which has been screened at numerous international film festivals. Ezra Remer began working with the MIT-Ayiti Initiative in April and looks forward to expanding its critical work through cutting-edge multi-media and communication techniques.
Dr. Jeffrey H. Toney
Provost and Vice President for Research and Faculty, Kean University
Visiting Professor, MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy
Visiting Scholar, Department of the History of Science, Harvard University

Dr. Jeffrey H. Toney obtained a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Virginia and a M.S. and Ph.D. in Chemistry from Northwestern University. He was a post-doctoral fellow in Molecular Biology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School and a post-doctoral fellow in Chemical Biology at MIT. Toney was appointed Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs in 2013 and is currently Provost and Vice President for Research and Faculty at Kean University. He serves concurrently as a Visiting Professor at MIT in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy and as a Visiting Scholar in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University.

He is also a member of the Advisory Board for SurgiBox, an MIT-D Lab initiative. He recently received an #SciCommMake award from Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Honors Society, and Science Talk, for his work in science communication.

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