Students partner to learn about eco-friendly initiatives

Photo courtesy of Neriko Doerr

Students from Ramapo’s Introduction to Anthropology course collaborated with Paterson Upward Bound Math Science high school students to gather research for the Eco-Chic II art exhibit in the Paterson Museum.

Aptly named Eco-Chic, the artistic fashion exhibit showcases eco-friendly clothing made from repurposed plastic items.

Last year’s first-ever Eco-Chic exhibit focused on the environmental impact of the textile industries, given Paterson’s history of being known as “Silk City.”

Paterson Museum curator Cristina Deutsch decided to theme this year’s exhibit around plastic bags following the recent discussion about the possible ban of plastic bags in New Jersey.

By collaborating with college and high school students, Deutsch surveyed the global issue of plastic pollution on a local level in the Paterson community.

During the spring semester, Ramapo and Upward Bound students visited a supermarket in Paterson to interview shoppers and store employees about how they use plastic bags and reusable shopping bags.

Upon concluding their research, students created elaborate posters about their findings in regards to the environmental impact of plastic bags and different perspectives Paterson citizens have toward adopting reusable bags.

The fieldwork gathered by the mix of college and high school students resulted in a positive collaborative experience for the students involved.

“Not only did the students contribute fresh ideas, unique perspectives and wide-eyed excitement to the project, but they were also passionate about sustainability and the motives behind the research project,” said senior Angely Montilla.

Professor Neriko Doerr’s Introduction to Anthropology class takes the shape of a different topic each semester—last semester she took the Eco-Chic exhibit opportunity to concentrate on sustainability.

“I want them to realize by creating these posters, and also the process of interviewing people, can raise awareness, like they could talk about some of statistics and where the plastic bags end up because some people know and some people don’t know about these issues,” Doerr said.

In addition to interviews, their research also involved analyzing the demographics of Paterson.

“When they interviewed people, it was not just how you use, but ‘what’s your educational background, where do you live’ and all that stuff too,” Doerr said.

Students discovered the most significant variable in demographics was often age, considering many younger shoppers were more environmentally conscious than older shoppers accustomed to using plastic bags.

“We found that a lot of people continue to use plastic bags even though they know how bad they can be for the environment, which was really surprising,” said senior Erica Coslop.

Ramapo student Eddie Aditya Anand was also astonished by certain findings. “It was surprising to see that people didn’t really understand the adverse effect plastic bags have on our environment,” she said.

In the Eco-Chic II exhibit, the students’ posters surround the work of Rose Orelup, an artist who sewed a dress made from recycled drinking straws, window blinds, surgical floor mats, plastic bottles and used coffee filters.

Another striking fashion item came from Ramapo Professor Jackie Skrzynski’s Intermediate Drawing class, titled the “Denim Waterfall,” an artwork made of recycled materials found throughout Paterson, made to resemble the Great Falls of the Passaic River.

“Ramapo College played such a huge role in this project. It’s just so complementary that the study was with the actual fashion pieces made with plastic materials because it’s very educational,” Deutsch said. “It really involved the students and the community of Paterson.”

Deutsch credits the support Eco-Chic II received from Ramapo College, the Paterson Museum, Upward Bound Math Science and a grant by the Paterson County Cultural & Heritage Council for making the exhibit successful.

Additionally, Ramapo faculty such as Neriko Doerr, Bonnie Blake, Andy Hadel and Jackie Skrzynski along with Sandra Suarez, the Ramapo College Upward Bound Math Science director, were each instrumental in the exhibit’s success.

“I really hope there will be other collaborations in the future,” said Deutsch. “It didn’t happen in like weeks or months — we started the conversation way back and we started building on it and then together we started getting excited.”

Earlier this spring, Christopher Romano, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs, asked Ramapo alumnus Anna Lavi to design a logo for reusable bags that would boldly promote the Eco-Chic II exhibit and the city of Paterson.

“The reusable bag is an important component of the exhibit and it’s a dream I had for a community like Paterson to adopt the reusable bag,” said Deutsch.

After the Eco-Chic II Exhibit closes on November 11, Professor Doerr hopes to find a space at Ramapo College to display the students’ research and artwork.