MS Capstone Excerpt: Artificial Intelligence

The following text is an excerpt from the introduction and conclusion to Artificial Intelligence, Christine Ruhe’s Capstone paper.  The Capstone Project is a compulsory, in-depth research project that allows every 8th-grade student to explore, write about and present on his/her passion.  In much the same way that we have featured a series of Global Thesis Updates from our 12th-grade researchers, over the next couple of weeks our hope is to highlight some of the insightful, globally oriented work that is coming out of the Capstone program.

By: Christine Ruhe, 8th Grade

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the branch of science focused on machines and technology that can perform intelligent behaviors. Intelligence is defined as “the capacity to acquire and apply knowledge.”[1]  Computers have always been able to acquire knowledge, the novel aspect of artificial intelligence is the ability to apply knowledge and learn new things from it.  It is a unique science; a mixture of philosophy, physiology and computer science.  The technology of Artificial Intelligence will have a great, positive effect on society by making the world safer, more informed, and more easily accessible.  As with many great innovations, the fear of change can evoke an uncertainty about the outcome of artificial intelligence; but the claims that this technology will be more harmful to society than it will be good are unwarranted.

There are two approaches to AI; the top down approach and the bottom up approach.  The bottom up approach is more effective and will provide the opportunity for more innovation than the top down approach.[2] The top down approach is to use expert systems to formulate rules, and to use software to recreate or mimic human brain function. [3]  The goal is to build electronic brains resembling the complicated neural networks of the human brain.  Brains have millions of neurons and are seen as one of the most complex mechanisms known to modern science.  Recreating this when scientists are not even completely sure how human brains work would be a miracle.  Neurons pass electrical signals through networks; they are devices for processing information such as numbers.[4]  Although this approach has proved useful in the past, it is less and less applicable to the challenges that current artificial intelligence faces.

The bottom up theory is based on the idea that if it took millions of years to develop the complicated brains that humans have now, it is futile to try to replicate that in a very short period of time.  Scientists are studying simpler organisms and working their up to eventually an intelligent brain.  This theory is more practical and will allow for a better understanding of AI to the scientists working with this method.


New AI is being developed to approach old problems with a new perspective; normally the bottom up approach, but even with this new approach, new inventions will still come slowly.   Once computer scientists figure out the proper approach for the obstacles they face, it becomes much easier to solve the problems.  In the future, it is unlikely that humans and computers will ever reach the same level of emotional capacity and understanding of the nuances of modern languages.  To prepare for a time when computers become closer to a human’s equal, it is necessary to be open to the change.  An incredible advancement in the field of AI will be the implementation of AI in spacecrafts.

NASA is moving forward in AI and this will lead to great strides in space exploration.  “Until recently, interplanetary robotic explorers have largely been marionettes of mission controllers back on Earth. The controllers sent instructions, and the spacecraft diligently executed them. But as missions go farther and become more ambitious, long-distance puppetry becomes less and less practical. If dumb spacecraft will not work, the answer is to make them smarter. Artificial intelligence will increasingly give spacecraft the ability to think for themselves,” says Kenneth Chang of the New York Times.[5]  Space probes will be able to perform functions that previously couldn’t be done.  These programs will eliminate some of the enormous cost of having manned spacecrafts, making more trips possible to gather more and more information about outer space.[6]  Intelligent crafts will make fewer and less costly mistakes because it reduces the risk of human error.  These crafts will also require less fuel and be smaller and more aerodynamic than a “dumb” spaceship.  These discoveries could eventually lead to finding another life supporting planet.  Some of these technologies are already in use on missions but NASA is developing even more AI enabled spacecrafts so space travel becomes less expensive, more efficient and potentially makes discoveries that couldn’t be made before.

Artificial Intelligence has been, is, and will continue to be a positive source of innovation for human society.  Computers have played a huge role in the advancement of society, whether early computers or technological masterpieces like Watson.  Due to AI, space will become more accessible to NASA, and one day there will be missions to a galaxy many light years away.  Information gathered from missions like this could help humans understand the characteristics of life itself, using other planets as a conduit.  Google is a quick and convenient source of knowledge, due to its complicated algorithm.  Siri is an example of the potential for future AI, a program that takes complicated voice commands and turns them into action.  Even though the science takes a while to develop, one should expect great things of artificial intelligence in the near future.

[1] “Intelligence” Def 1. Random House Dictionary, Random House Inc. 2011

[2] “Methods to Creating Intelligence”

<; November 14, 2011.

[3] Expert systems are programs that use inferences and available information to make decisions.  This is useful in the fields of manufacturing and finance.

[4] “Methods to Creating Intelligence”

[5]Chang, Kenneth.  The New York Times. “Intelligent Beings in Space” May 30, 2006.

[6] Mulhall, Douglas.  Our Molecular Future. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2002.  Page 93

MS Capstone Excerpt: Artificial Intelligence

GFA’s 1st Annual World Perspectives Symposium

World Perspectives Symposium Day

On April 24, 2012 Greens Farms Academy celebrated its first World Perspectives Symposium, a celebration of students’ independent research and an opportunity to increase our students’ connection to and engagement with the world beyond the classroom walls.

The day began with a wonderful keynote presentation by Mr. Michael Singh on the role of the United States in the Middle East. Mr. Singh’s humor and delivery  made the complex decision-making process of diplomats transparent to all, Middle and Upper School students alike. The richness of his experience and expertise was a fantastic way to kick off our day.  Following the keynote presentation, the Middle and Upper Schools parted ways for the remainder of the program.

The 6th grade headed off to the the  Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk where, in addition to seeing the regular exhibits, they were able to see an IMAX film entitle To the Arctic.  The 7th-grade students spent the better part of the day studying the health of our own salt march ecosystems while the 8th-graders participated in a Model UN activity that was designed by the Middle School history teachers.

Following Mr. Singh’s talk, students in the Upper School International Relations and Black Gold courses had the opportunity to have small group discussions with our keynote speaker, which allowed him to discuss in greater depth many of the topics upon which he had touched in his keynote speech.   All Upper School students spent the rest of the day hearing formal World Perspectives Symposium Daypresentations from our first cohort to have the opportunity to graduate with a diploma with a concentration in Global Studies.  Students in the Global Thesis  and Challenge 20/20 programs as well as a handful of students who have spent the year in the Science Research program presented to their peers.  Our students’ research was just as well prepared and clearly presented as we would have hoped.  What was perhaps most exciting, however, was the earnest interest with which the student body peppered their classmates with questions and the aplomb with which our scholars responded.  It was inspiring to see this kind of intellectual engagement in the community.  Also, as a part of the cooperation between our Foundations of World History and Biology courses, students had the opportunity to engage in conversation with Mr. Peter Luckow of Tiyatien Health, an NGO that seeks to provide access to health care for rural Liberians.  The students in these course had been doing a comparative study of medieval and contemporary societies’ responses to epidemic.  As a part of this study they examined the AIDS epidemic and the bubonic plague.  Students in these courses were enthralled by Mr. Luckow’s experiences working in post-war Liberia.

In short, the day was a great success and the faculty, parents and members of the community were all very proud of the work that GFA students have done.  In the coming weeks we will embed some video presentations from this symposium.  Stay tuned.

See the following flickr albums for more photos from the World Perspectives Symposium.  Upper School  Middle School


Forgiveness and a Thread to Follow

The following post is based on a talk that MS English teacher, Robbi Hart, delivered to the Upper School.  Robbi’s words are a reflection of her time spent in Rwanda this past summer as a part of GFA’s Faculty Travel Grant program.  More information about GFA’s budding relationship with the IEE Teacher Training Program in Rwanda will follow in the coming weeks.


By:  Robbi Hart (MS English)

Could you forgive a person that murdered your family?  What would it take?  How long would it last?  How fragile would it be?  Those questions haunted me for months after I watched the IEE film As We Forgive and, ultimately, led to my journey to Rwanda this past summer on a GFA travel grant.  While my trip was, equally importantly, designed to forge a partnership between our school and the IEE Teacher Training Program, my first pull to this tiny country, ignored by the world in 1994 when it experienced the worst genocide since World War II, was to witness the reconciliation process firsthand.

During a period of 100 days close to a million Tutsi and moderate Hutu men, women, and children were killed in Rwanda, most of them slaughtered with machetes and crude farming tools by their very own neighbors. By the time the massacre ended, one-fifth of the country’s population was dead, two out of three surviving women were infected with HIV/AIDS, and a country that previously did not have the word “orphan” in its vocabulary was left with over 400,000 orphans and more than 85,000 households headed by children. A new term, ihahamuka, had to be coined to describe the complex psychological disorders resulting from the genocide.

Most of the world assumed that Rwanda would become a poster child for self-destruction; however, it has instead become a symbol of reconciliation and rebirth, a phoenix rising from the ashes.  In the aftermath of the genocide, faced with 120,000 prisoners he could no longer detain, President Paul Kagame had to find a way to reintegrate the perpetrators of the genocide into their original homes and communities, often living next door to their victims.

He and Bishop Rucyahana came up with a specially crafted solution – using local courts, called Gacacas, where killers stood before their neighbors, confessed their crimes, and in turn were offered forgiveness. He had to replace centuries of European Imperialism that sought to create divisions between Tutsis and Hutus with a new national identity as united Rwandans.

Bishop John Rucyahana, founder of Prison Fellowship International, architect of the Reconciliation process, and Minister of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, is, apart from Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, one of the most influential men in Africa, but through a friend of Patti Hiller, I was able to arrange a meeting.  As we sat under a bamboo gazebo sipping ginger-spiced African tea, my small foursome learned how the reconciliation process is working and what the Rwandan people can teach the world. When I asked the bishop if he had a message for our students back home, he said, “Tell them, I have the choice not to forgive, to hold onto bitterness and anger and rage.  But I also have the choice to forgive and to move on, and through that forgiveness to bless the children of the perpetrators.  Rwanda is our country.  Nobody can do it for us.  Forgiveness is our responsibility.”

His honesty and generosity in sharing both the pain and the promise of Rwanda was found in everyone I encountered during my visit.  Guma Alexandre, with PFI Restorative Justice, cleared an entire day to allow us to interview former prisoners, attend a 2-hour village reconciliation meeting, and visit genocide memorials at Nyamata and Ntarama.  The images of those memorials – where blood-stained clothing lines the church benches, mortar shells lie strewn beside family photos and maimed skulls, and statues of the Virgin Mary watch with hands folded in prayer – are not forgotten.  Yet they are mysteriously and powerfully woven into a firm resolve of “Never again” and a message of forgiveness and understanding.

Matteus, a former Hutu prisoner who killed his neighbor’s family, stands next to the only survivor of that family.  Her forehead bears the deep imprints of the masus, or nail-studded clubs, that were used to try to kill her.  After 9 years in prison and 13 reconciliation meetings over 2 years, Matteus has been accepted back into the community and now makes bricks out of water and soil.  Sitting beside them under the shade of a banana tree, listening to a language I did not know, their acceptance, even affection, for one another was palpable.

The first night I arrived in Rwanda was the last night of the 100-day mourning period.  I stayed awake most of the night listening to music from nearby churches, blaring radios, people in the streets, and guard dogs barking.  Because so few could bury their dead, this 100-day period is kept sacred still, 17 years later, to allow the healing to continue.  It is followed by an even more important commemoration, the Day of Liberation.  On that day I was fortunate to join 40,000 Rwandans gathered in the Amohoro Stadium to recall the blessings, remember the scars, and hear President Kagame renew his government’s pledge to build unity, transparency, and prosperity.

At the end of my journey to Rwanda I found that my camera, memories, and journals were filled not with images of pain and suffering, anger and self-pity, but instead with reassurances of gratitude, hope, and understanding.  I returned to my heavy questions, no longer haunted.  If Rwandans can reconcile with those who have slaughtered their own families, how much more can we forgive the offenses in our lives? One high school student, after viewing a more recent film from Rwanda (Kinyarwandan), said it best: “Perhaps forgiveness is the final stage of human evolution.”  I believe it can be.

My journey to Rwanda started with a quote I held onto from my eighth grade term paper on Cry, The Beloved Country: “I have learned that kindness and love can pay for pain and suffering.” Although that quote and that book were powerful, I felt skeptical, and I feared that another quote from the book might prove more true – “I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they (the whites of South Africa) have turned to loving, they will find we (the blacks) are turned to hating.”  Experiences in South Africa and Rwanda have shown the world that while human beings are capable of horrific hatred and suffering, they are also capable of unbelievable grace and compassion, even forgiveness.

I offer you that thread of hope to take with you today.  Read, explore, and find other places in this fractured world where they are building new ties and hope.  Then share the news so we can all carry the thread, feel the promise, and shoulder the responsibility.

Forgiveness and a Thread to Follow

MS Capstone Excerpt: The Role of Women in Celtic and Catholic Ireland

The following text is an excerpt from the introduction to Maeve’s Flaherty’s Capstone paper.  The Capstone Project is a compulsory, in-depth research project that allows every 8th-grade student to explore, write about and present on his/her passion.  In much the same way that we have featured a series of Global Thesis Updates from our 12th-grade researchers, over the next couple of weeks our hope is to highlight some of the insightful, globally oriented work that is coming out of the Capstone program.

By: Maeve Flaherty, 8th Grade

Celtic Ireland was an ancient society where woman experienced a rare amount of freedom, particularly in comparison to Ireland after the arrival of Christianity.  Looking at the myths and laws of the late Celtic world and the early Christian conversion of Ireland, it is apparent that the Celtic world was more open to women.  Although both societies were patriarchal, the mythology of the Ulster Cycle and the story of Ireland’s patron Saint, Brigid, show very different types of women, and the different societal roles that the two cultures accepted.  These mythological and historical characters were governed through Celtic law, the Brehon laws, and Canon Law.  Through comparison of the laws and stories of the two societies, it is apparent that Celtic Ireland was far more tolerant of women in positions of power and the workforce than the early Catholic times.

The legal system of Celtic Ireland codified into law a society where women were protected, educated, and given rights similar or equal to those of men.  The law of the Fenechus of Ireland, meaning “free land tillers”, was a very complicated but unified system of law governing Ireland.  They are more popularly known as the Brehon laws, coming from the word breatheamh, meaning “judge”.  Originally the Brehon Laws were transmitted orally, memorized by the Brehons who judged and served kingdoms across Ireland.  The earliest known written copy is located in the Book of the Dun Cow, although several other texts have survived the centuries in a fragmented state.  In 438, King Laoghaire of Tara established a commission to examine, revise and set the laws down in writing.[1]  In the Brehon Laws that King Laoghaire codified, women feature prominently.  Much can be found about the position of women in society from how they are regarded in law, and the Brehon Laws contain a wealth of information.

[1] Ellis, Peter Berresford. The Ancient World of the Celts. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1998. Print.

MS Capstone Excerpt: The Role of Women in Celtic and Catholic Ireland

Challenge 20/20 on the Nile Basin and the Allocation of Water

Excerpts from the following reflection will appear in the spring GFA Alumni Magazine.  The magazine will feature articles from current students and alumni on the centrality that the global water crisis has taken in our curriculum and in our students’ interests in college and beyond.  As those who have been following this blog will know, this year’s World Perspectives Symposium will feature two Global Thesis presentations that are focused on water issues as well as the Challenge 20/20 presentation.

Regi Monroe '12, Aubrey Carter '12, Isabelle Canaan '12

By: Isabelle Canaan ’12

It seems to be the year of water. Everywhere you look, philanthropists, politicians, and scientists are coining water as this generation’s oil or gold, the root cause of many of the environmental and political conflicts, both contemporary and to come. It is impossible to avoid the growing water problem and our Challenge 20/20 group wanted to explore this. As a group, we have strengths in Environmental Science, International Relations and Black Gold and multiple history courses, and we felt that dealing with the water crisis best combined these strengths and interests.

We spent the first couple of months figuring out what the water crisis is and what facet of it we wanted to focus on, each doing individual projects on arid or depleted areas such as India, Central Africa, Australia and the Middle East.  Ultimately we decided that it was important for us to focus on the political and socio-economic parts of the water crisis rather than just the environmental factors. After much discussion, we settled not on one country, as has been typical of 20/20 groups in the past, but instead to zero in on a river system and a region that incorporates many different nations and different tensions and policies. As there are a number of Global Thesis projects on the issue of water, we wanted to steer clear of their areas of expertise (China, Middle East).

In choosing to focus on the Nile River Basin system, and specifically Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan, we settled on one of the oldest and most complicated river systems in the world. We have delved deep into colonial history, studying the time line of British imperialism in the region and the impact of this colonization on contemporary water issues. Each of these nations presents an extremely unique challenge as they are all very much at the forefront of world news today. Egypt was one of the first countries in the Arab Spring and has recently been going through a transition that has changed policy and priorities. South Sudan just broke away from the Republic of Sudan, a geopolitical shift that has changed the way we look at the Nile River Basin region. Ethiopia, long entrenched in conflict with Somalia, has recently been engaged in back-and-forth attacks. As these nations’ situations are so fluid, it has been very important for us to couple our historical reading and journal discoveries with news sources in order to avoid missing the facts on the ground as they are developing.

The Challenge 20/20 project is focused not only on identifying a problem but in proposing a solution. In forming our solutions, we are looking to interview members NGO’s and to take helpful information from a lecture by water expert Steven Solomon to propose both short-term and long-term solutions. As of right now, one of the coolest parts of the 20/20 experience was bumping into an Ethiopian cab driver in Washington DC and hearing his take on the water crisis. It made the whole project much more personal as we were no longer dealing with these large states and governments, but with the reality of thousands of people.

Challenge 20/20 on the Nile Basin and the Allocation of Water

Middle School French Students Travel to Quebec

Our group in front of le Chateau de Frontenac.

By: Anne-Sophie Reynaud (MS Faculty)

On Feb 17th 44 middle school students and 5 chaperones went on a great adventure to discover Quebec and to put in practice what they all learned in their respective French classes. After a long 10-hour drive, we arrived in this beautiful old city and started our trip strolling down the gorgeous streets of Canada’s oldest neighborhood and stopped at the Musée du Fort where we relived the rich history of the Plains of Abraham.

After a wonderful breakfast at the Huron-Wendat village on Saturday morning, where we learned about their culture and customs, our group was ready to make the most of the gorgeous weather and enjoy our fun-filled day in this beautiful region of Canada. We started off by killing two birds with one stone, buying some souvenirs and practicing our French in the old city. The highlight of the day, however,  was definitely tubing at night! What a great feeling it was to go down those really steep slopes in the dark! On our way home, our

Getting reading for some serious hiking in the snow.

fantastic guide, Françis and Robert le chauffeur extraordinaire had planned a great surprise for us with a singing/dancing extravaganza. I think it’s fair to say that none of us will ever forget the song!

After such a great day on Saturday, we were all very tired on Sunday morning but a great breakfast perked us up and we were ready to take on the activities of the day. We were again blessed with glorious sunshine and reasonably “warm” temperature (well, it’s all relative). Our group was very excited about the morning activities. We all knew that snowshoeing and dog-sledding would be incredible experiences and none of us could wait to get started! After an invigorating hike in the forest, we were all introduced to our dogs and were given instructions as to how to control them. To say that our dogs were very eager to take us on a ride through the heart of the Canadian forest would be an understatement! After a stop at the ice hotel, we were on our way to the sugar shack, admittedly the best part of the trip. Students and chaperones alike enjoyed wonderful homemade Canadian food and a show of typical folk music and dancing.

Monday morning came too quickly but after a yummy breakfast at “le Parlementaire”, it was time to say goodbye to Quebec and head for home, our heads full of fond memories.

The ultimate winter adventure: Dogsledding in the forest.At the sugar shack making the most of our last night in Quebec.
Middle School French Students Travel to Quebec

Announcing Michael Singh as our World Perspectives Symposium Keynote Speaker

By: Jason Cummings

As many in the community will already know, GFA has set aside April 24, 2012 for our first annual World Perspectives Symposium, an opportunity for the entire community to step back from our daily activities and engage with a series of important global issues. For Middle  and Upper School students, the day will be a celebration of the student research including formal presentations and seminar-style discussions with our fourteen Global Thesis students. In addition, students have the opportunity to hear from our Challenge 20/20 students, three seniors who have spent the year studying geopolitics and water allocation in the Nile River valley.  Furthermore, as our Foundations of World History and Biology students (mostly 9th graders) will be in the midst of an interdisciplinary comparative study of the bubonic plague and the AIDS/HIV epidemic, those students will have the opportunity to interact with a global health professional  who is working to combat AIDS/HIV.    Lower School students will take the opportunity to learn more about the young people  that they have been sponsoring through Save the Children.  Lower School students are helping to provide for one child in Mali and nearer to home a child in a difficult situation in Kentucky. This will prove an excellent avenue for learning about the rights of children both in this country and around the world.

First thing in the morning, however, the entire community will have the benefit of hearing from Mr. Michael Singh, the managing director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and former senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council.  Additionally, Mr. Singh served as a special assistant to Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.  Mr. Singh’s writings have appeared in many prominent publications including The Economist and Foreign Policy on whose feature blog “Shadow Government” he is a frequent contributor.  We look forward to hearing him address the entire GFA community on April 24, 2012 at 8am and to having our International Relations students interact with him later that day in a small-group setting.

Both Mr. Singh’s presentation and our students’ formal presentations will be open to the public as space permits.  A couple of short updates about our students’ Global Thesis project  are being published each week on this blog. Click here to read the Global Thesis updates that we have posted thus far. 

More information on how to RSVP to this event will be available on this blog in the coming weeks.  Stay tuned!

Announcing Michael Singh as our World Perspectives Symposium Keynote Speaker

On Becoming a US Citizen

The following is a transcription of a talk given to the Upper School by GFA Head of School, Janet Hartwell on Friday, February 3, 2012 during our regular “Friday Speaker” time.  Given the subject matter, it seemed only appropriate to publish this talk here.

A large poster showing a group of newly arrived immigrants huddled on the dock of Ellis Island stared down at the rows of people seated in government issue, metal, folding chairs. A security officer sat behind a broken, three-legged desk, handing out numbers to anyone who entered.  It was a bleak room–peeling paintwork, worn linoleum floors, no visible telephones or computers–nothing beyond chairs, and a desk, the very basic requirements for an office, and even those seemed grudgingly given; shades of an Orwellian world, with an overwhelmingly powerful bureaucracy,  and people identified  only as numbers; and this was just to have my fingerprints taken. After 15 years in America, it was the first step of my journey towards United States citizenship.

Several months later I was in a different room. There were the same folding metal chairs, but this room had two televisions, both showing CNN, and two American flags flanking doors on either side of an imposing desk. This was a kind of latter day Ellis Island, and a potent blend of expectation and anxiety hung in the air. The woman in front of me talked quietly to someone who was clearly a lawyer, voicing fears of rejection, of not being admitted into the “brave new world,” the same fears that surly went through the minds of everyone who shuffled through the great hall of Ellis Island.  We were all awaiting our examination-–the final step of the citizenship journey.

Every so often an immigration officer appeared at one of the two doors and called out names whose Chinese, Slavic or Arabic sounds sat awkwardly on the Bostonian tongue. I did wonder if some people actually failed to recognize their names and spent days waiting to be called. There were whispered conversations all around me  – where do you come from? How long have you been here? Do you have family here? Children? We were interested in each other’s stories and journeys to this point, when from across the room a voice announced Janet Hartwell- I jumped up and presented myself to the immigration officer at the door, and as I did so, another woman also answered to the name. What to do? A moment of confusion, panic? My double? However, I was directed one way and she another. I’d love to know what became of the other Janet Hartwell.

So, you’re a teacher, my examiner queried when I entered his room.  You get the hard questions. Who said: “Give me liberty or give me death?” Blind panic struck – Henry V-I blurted out, no, no,  wait, Charles De Gaulle, no, it must be an American, George Washington. No, I don’t know, I practically sobbed, my hopes of citizenship diminishing by the second. That one wasn’t in my book, I whined, referring to the SAT type prep book Everything you need to know to pass the test;100 questions towards citizenship, which I had practically learned by heart.  I did, however, survive and pass the exam, wondering, not for the first time, how knowing who the 15th president was would make me a better citizen.

Brian Moore, the author, in his last essay “Going Home” wrote,” There are those who choose to leave home, vowing never to return, and those who, forced to leave for economic reasons, remain in thrall to a dream of a land they left behind. And then there are the stateless wanderers who, finding the larger world into which they have stumbled, vast, varied, and exciting, become confused in their loyalties and lose their sense of home.”  I was one of those wanderers; I grew up in England, went to graduate school and taught in Scotland and then lived in Iran, and  Saudi Arabia before coming to live in America.  America to my new eyes was a land of giddying choice,  opportunity,  excitement,  infinite variety, and where ice in drinks was not a luxury but part of daily life. However, for many of the years I had lived in this country, I did not feel that America was my home. I was always happy here in the US, but I never stopped thinking of England as my home, in the fundamental sense of the word.  England is where I come from, what I really understand, the base against which all else is measured. In an ironic way, nothing makes you feel more like a native of your own country than to live in a country where everyone else is not. For over 20 years, overseas and here in America, being English was my defining quality; it was often how I identified and differentiated.

So here I was, well along on the road to becoming an American, finally ready to commit to my adopted country. It had been a relatively easy journey; the fingerprints, endless paper work, long lines, and annoying bureaucracy were nothing compared to the hardships, fears and profound uncertainties experienced by thousands of immigrants who had also left all that was familiar, to undertake the long, difficult journey with no certain knowledge of success at the end.

What finally made me decide to become an American citizen was the feeling of not belonging to either one country or another. I lived in America, but as a resident alien, I had a British passport, but no longer lived there. To belong, one needs to be productive, useful, and to feel that one has a voice in how things are done and how decisions are made, to participate in public affairs, to be an active, engaged citizen, recognizing the importance of his or her personal contribution to the public good. In the tradition of the great philosophers Hobbes and Locke, who were interested in man as a thinking, moral being embedded in his society and reacting to its demands out of his human nature, I wanted to vote, to be a participant in the political system and to exercise the responsibilities that come with citizenship.  The reason I am talking about this now, of course, is because we are in an election year, and I want to stress to all of you the importance of exercising your right to vote, now if you are old enough or when you can. This was one of the fundamental issues of the Arab spring – the right to hold free and open elections where every vote counts and everyone has a vote. It is something we must never take for granted.

The final step in my citizenship odyssey was the swearing in ceremony in Faneuil Hall in Boston. On a snowy day in late January 1999, 397 new citizens were called upon to foreswear allegiance to “foreign potentates” and to take the oath of allegiance to the United States of America. For Patrick Henry- yes, I later learned the real author of the quote, it was an either or scenario – liberty or death, but I have to admit that for a while, I had a profound sense of ambivalence, a strong sense of loss and an equally strong sense of gain. Thankfully, I can admit at this point in the journey, an increasing sense of this is where I belong.

On Becoming a US Citizen

Global Thesis Update: Social Technologies and the Coming Revolution in Healthcare Delivery

By: Kiera Wood ’12

Kiera Wood '12

I have spent the last two summers interning at Danbury Hospital’s development fund working on small projects.  My focus has been to reach out to the local community of schools, kids, parents, and patrons to raise money for the new neonatal intensive care unit.  The fundraising that was done at the hospital is the traditional way by which invitations to charity events and galas are sent out through the mail.  I began thinking about ways that fundraising and awareness could be modernized online for instant communications on the issue.

During the summer of 2010 I visited the township of Kayamandi in South Africa.  I was shocked by the lack of sanitation, education, and medical facilities.  On the other hand, I was also shocked by the fact that nearly everyone living in the township had a cell phone, granted not a smart phone, almost every home I visited had a television, and many of the children who attended school had a Facebook account.

I was inspired by these observations and GFA’s World Prospective Program to investigate my interests in the global healthcare crisis through modern technology and social media.  With the help of my advisor, Mrs. Freeland, I have been able to research and discuss the powers and impact of mobile communications and social networking on both high-income and low-income nations.

After reading books such as Shift and Reset by GFA alumnus Brian Reich and The Future of Nonprofits by David Neff and Randal Moss, I have been able to get a clear view into what the future may hold for solutions to the crisis.   I believe the future of health care delivery has shifted into the hands of entrepreneurs and innovators.  For example, innovators are creating strong online communities and support systems for doctors and patients by linking them together by similar ideas or diagnosis.

Like any major project, my global thesis has taken a lot of time and energy. However, I have enjoyed studying and researching a topic that I am very passionate about.  Although it is only the beginning of the second semester, I look forward to wrapping up my project and conclusions and most importantly giving my presentation at the World Perspectives Symposium on April 24.

Global Thesis Update: Social Technologies and the Coming Revolution in Healthcare Delivery

The Memory Project: Studio Art II Students Help Ecuadorian Orphans

The Memory Project is an organization that fosters global friendship between high school art students around the world and children in orphanages.  Ben Schumaker founded the organization in 2004 while volunteering in Guatemala as a graduate student.  Through the Memory Project, GFA Studio Art II students studying with Nancy McTague Stock received photographs of Ecuadorian orphans  and created a series portraits that were then hand delivered by the Memory Project to the orphans themselves.  According the the foundation’s website

In total, art students from the USA, UK, Canada and Korea have now created more than 30,000 portraits for kids from 33 countries.

GFA is proud to have our students and faculty participating in such an outstanding program.

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The Memory Project: Studio Art II Students Help Ecuadorian Orphans