Students capture the Dubai experience

College of Imaging Arts and Sciences sponsored the collaborative study abroad initiative

Meredith Davenport

RIT faculty and students enjoyed meeting and working with students and faculty from the American University of Sharjah during a study abroad program in the United Arab Emirates.

“Dubai—a city of dichotomy where old culture meets the future—where the desert climate rubs shoulders with chilly interiors of air conditioners and ice rinks.”

–Emily Barresi, third-year fine art photography major at RIT

Dubai was the first trip of its kind for a dozen students at Rochester Institute of Technology. They didn’t know each other, came from a variety of disciplines—photography, industrial design, biochemistry, engineering, industrial and systems engineering, information security and forensics—and spent 12 days in the United Arab Emirates in solidarity to work on three projects, including one with students at the American University of Sharjah.

The outcome is an exhibition, Dubai & Beyond: Collaborative Study Abroad Experience, which is on view at the Sunken Gallery, second floor in The Wallace Center at RIT. During the closing reception from 4 to 7 p.m. on May 6, a book highlighting the students’ experiences, City As Site: Dubai and Beyond, will be unveiled.

Last January, Professor Roberley Bell and Assistant Professor Meredith Davenport from the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences at RIT’s College of Imaging Arts and Sciences led the class trip. “Crossing the boundaries of disciplines is a rich way for everyone to learn about the same thing through different eyes,” said Bell. “Using locale as a classroom allowed each student to use their field research as a starting point to develop an individual project of interest to them.”

  • Emily Shriver, a third-year biomedical photographic communications major from Alden, N.Y., collected sand from the dunes at Sharjah and Al Jumeirah beaches and vividly illuminated their compositions under magnification.
  • Brendan Babiarz, a second-year student in industrial design from Utica, N.Y., conceived a light fixture called Light Lapse that transforms an environment into an immersive timepiece—emulating the sun’s projected light span over the course of a day.
  • Paulina Kleinberger, a third-year student in industrial and systems engineering from Liberty, N.Y., focused on the need for additional desalination plants in UAE due to the desert’s lack of fresh water supply.
  • Jessa Dermitt, a third-year student in biomedical engineering from Pittsburgh, studied the UAE hierarchy of social status through license plate numbers—discovering numbers one through six being the highest and owned by sheikhs.

Bell said the diverse and multicultural society of the United Arab Emirates along with the region’s dramatic landscape provided a remarkable backdrop for a new learning experience. “Dubai is totally fascinating—and the artificiality of what we think initially about the United Arab Emirates is quite unfortunate. There’s the seven-star hotel, there’s the glamour, but underneath there’s a really interesting sociological world taking place. We need to move further east for students to understand their future.”

art and design
global engagement

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