OMO CEAD Innovation Center
One-line solution summary:
Sowing the seeds of a decolonized, indigenized, reconciled planet through indigenous philosophy and 21st-Century creative CEAD education.
Pitch your solution.
Colonization has left countless indigenous communities ravaged by toxic environments where disparities and inadequate systems reinforce negative feedback loops and limit the ability of indigenous youth to explore their full creative/intellectual potential. To reverse these damaging cycles, we are proposing a holistic, multidimensional, culturally-informed solution in the OMO Culture, Ecology, Art, and Design (CEAD) Innovation Center.
On a 28-acre permaculture farm on the Navajo Nation, our innovation-focused programs cultivate and empower indigenous problem-solvers and innovative leaders through a pedagogical approach that centers project-based learning, indigenous philosophy, cultural knowledge, ecological awareness, artistic expressions, and creative design thinking. Here, students are trained to solve complex real-world problems by designing innovative solutions in studios and on the farm while emerging artists, designers, and scholars are invited to contribute new work and ideas. If scaled thoughtfully, similar pedagogical models could be built around the specific needs and cultural/ecological systems of other indigenous communities.
What specific problem are you solving?
Education and life-long learning are keystones to self-sufficiency, innovation, and prosperity. Unfortunately, indigenous students across all grade levels continue to struggle in western systems of education and face some of the lowest high school graduation rates in the nation. Sadly, even fewer enroll in and graduate from college, thus leaving many underequipped for life in the 21st-century. In a knowledge-based economy, a continuing gap in academic proficiency and access to higher education cripples the socioeconomic well-being, status, and mobility of individuals, families, and entire tribal nations.
In the Navajo Nation, Diné youth with poor access to vital resources are tasked with overcoming intergenerational trauma in addition to high rates of childhood poverty (42.4%) in the lowest performing state public education system in the United States. Here, poor educational outcomes and academic deficiencies aren’t due to a lack of ingenuity, intellect, or ambition. Instead, inadequate infrastructure, environmental degradation, food insecurity, health disparities, and systemic deficiencies in current education models burden the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health and wellbeing of our youth.
While these issues are prevalent throughout Indigenous America, we will initiate our solution by working with students, professionals, and families in the Navajo Nation communities of northern New Mexico’s San Juan river valley.
What is your solution?
We are redefining how we educate indigenous youth by introducing a 21st Century education model that is inseparable from:
1. inquiry, experimentation, and practical experience;
2. the local culture and community ecology;
3. indigenous knowledge, values, methods, and technologies; and
4. artistic expressions and creative design thinking.
We will introduce a full-time 6th-12th grade Innovation School, several CEAD Discovery Studios, an Educational Farm, Community Harvest Shares, and Residencies for professional artists, designers, and scholars.
Our Innovation School immerses students in an environment based on an architectural design studio model and orients learning around multi-disciplinary, collaborative projects. Here, students are not given grades, instead they develop portfolios to demonstrate their experience and competency. At a smaller scale, our CEAD Discovery Studios introduce our pedagogical model to a broader audience throughout the year. In both programs, students integrate their knowledge through hands-on creative problem solving as they solve complex, real-world issues locally and globally.
To cultivate new work and ideas, we will host professional artists, designers, and scholars from around the world in our Open Studio Residencies.
Our Educational Farm will convey traditional cultural knowledge and experiment with modern and ancestral methods of cultivation through studio-integrated workshops, internships, and apprenticeships. The produce that is cultivated on our farms will then be distributed to local families through an affordable CSA Harvest Share program.
Strong preference will be given to Native-led solutions that directly benefit and are located within the Indigenous communities. Which community(s) does your solution benefit?
Headquartered in Hogback, NM, the OMO CEAD Innovation Center is an indigenous-led project that delivers innovation-focused creative education programs to the rural Navajo Nation communities of northwestern New Mexico. For centuries, indigenous people, including the Diné, have conveyed knowledge and values through traditional architecture, agriculture, language, storytelling, ceremony, and practical experience in the environment. We focus on returning ancestral knowledge and methods of teaching to Diné youth and young adults in a 21st-Century pedagogy. Our Innovation School will work directly with Diné students between the ages of 11-18 years old struggling to reach their full potential in an education system where creativity, imagination, and divergent thinking is often quelled.
Ultimately, we will cultivate a productive and creative environment where innovative ideas are born. Thus, our interrelated programs are all designed to facilitate a reciprocal relationship between our students, the environment, the local community ecology, and visiting artists, designers, and scholars.
Which dimension of the Fellowship does your solution most closely address?Other
Explain how the problem you are addressing, the solution you have designed, and the population you are serving align with the Challenge.
This solution was cultivated by a diverse team of young architecture, engineering, and environmental studies graduates as a direct response to the many challenges encountered by indigenous youth and their communities. Of our eight founding members, four, including our team leader, are Diné and have experienced the challenges of growing up in the Navajo Nation's rural communities. Thus, we have crafted a multidimensional solution where success lies in our ability to serve our community by delivering healthy, affordable, and sovereign food; professional opportunities; skill/identity development opportunities; language and cultural revitalization; and an innovative 21st-Century creative education model.
In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?Shiprock, NM, USA
What is your solution’s stage of development?Prototype: A venture or organization building and testing its product, service, or business model.
Explain why you selected this stage of development for your solution.
As a whole, we are currently in the late-concept/early-prototype stage because we have not yet procured funding for our organization. We are developing our Innovation School's curriculum alongside educational leaders while we prototype scaled versions of our pedagogical model through our CEAD Discovery Studios and Farm + Food programs.
In the CEAD Discovery Studio prototype, up to thirty Diné students in the Navajo Nation communities of northwestern New Mexico will be offered the opportunity to participate in one of four design/build/grow projects on 4-acres of an organic, permaculture farm. Studio projects include a 300-sf chicken coop, a 500-sf passive solar greenhouse, a vermicomposting system, and an aquaponics system. Each studio project accommodates varying age groups in their scope and complexity. The completion of these projects will introduce new elements that will enrich the experience of the community and future students.
Who is the Team Lead for your solution?
Please indicate the tribal affiliation of your primary delegate.
Navajo (Diné) and Cheyenne River Sioux (Mnikhówozu)
Is your primary delegate a member of the community in which your project is based?Yes
Which of the following categories best describes your solution?A new business model or process that relies on technology to be successful
Describe what makes your solution innovative?
How our children are raised, educated, and cared for is critical to the success of our communities, and our nations. Without a connection to the ancestral philosophies and practical methods of education that have guided indigenous communities for eons, our youth will continue to struggle. Thus, we are proposing a unique studio-based pedagogical model that indigenizes the educational movement to build K-12 curricula around creative design-thinking and project-based learning.
Our pedagogical model is inseparable from the holistic teachings of the ancestral philosophy of the Diné. Embedded in the four sacred cardinal directions, this philosophy is expressed in concepts and values associated with natural elements, cycles, and processes. Here, life is placed in a harmonious relationship with the natural world and uses this to teach holistic principles of health, well-being, and personal development. We also discovered clear connections between the modern understanding of the design process and the Diné process of knowledge internalization. Therefore, we have centralized this philosophy in our pedagogy and encourage our students to absorb the teachings of our ancestors and explore them through their work.
In a multi-disciplinary environment based on an architectural design studio, students explore ambiguous, open-ended, real-world problems by developing a solution through an iterative process. As they develop studio projects, students are taught to integrate and apply different realms of knowledge from varying disciplines. Instead of grades and standardized tests, students are evaluated on their ability to think critically and creatively; observe and analyze systems and environments; empathize with people and whole systems; identify existing or eminent problems, or needs; understand nuances; brainstorm creative solutions; express and convey complex ideas, thoughts, and emotions; prototype new contextually-relevant systems, products, or experiences; present solutions to the community; receive constructive criticism; and reflect upon lessons granted by the design, its process, and the community's response.
Here, our pedagogy teaches students how to innovate within the limits of the means available with a critical, yet respectful regard of a specific region and its context. With our transformative approach, we hope to break cycles of intergenerational poverty and trauma by teaching students how to holistically design systems, experiences, and products that foster abundance and ecologically healthy environments.
Describe the core technology that powers your solution.
While we are not introducing a new technology, access to modern and ancestral knowledge, methods, and technologies is critical to the success of the OMO CEAD Innovation Center.
We will offer studios that explore a wide range of topics including permaculture and ancestral architectural and agricultural methods and technologies (three sisters, adobe, rammed earth, timber, etc.) As they engage in design projects in studios and on the farm, students will learn principles of Diné philosophy and explore their newfound understanding through creative design projects like passive solar greenhouses, aquaponics systems, vermicomposting systems, virtual reality experiences, autonomous robots, mycelium construction, etc. To facilitate this, we hope to provide a space where students and guest residents can access critical 21st-Century tools and equipment. This will include design studios and fully-equipped computer and fabrication labs. These spaces will provide students and guest residents with access to:
1. computers that contain graphic design, GIS, robotics, coding, modeling, and rendering software (i.e. Adobe CC, Rhinoceros, 3DS Max, ArcGIS, Maya, Blender, Revit, Python, Sketchup, etc.); and
2. equipment for the fabrication of prototypes (i.e. 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC machines, and equipment for woodworking, metalworking, ceramics, painting, weaving, etc.)
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
Select the key characteristics of your target population.
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?
In which state(s) do you currently operate?
In which state(s) will you be operating within the next year?
How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?
Approximately 30 students ranging in age from 12-17 years old have already expressed a strong interest in participating in our summer and afterschool CEAD Discovery Studio prototypes; 2 professional artists, 2 architectural designers, and 1 biologist expressed interest in participating in our Open Studio Residency; and approximately 12 families are eager to join a CSA Harvest Share program as soon as possible. However, these numbers are a result of conversations in the local community and with individuals in the founding team's professional network.
By the end of year one, we hope to finalize our Innovation School curriculum and serve at least 20 students aged 11-18 years old through a partnership with local Navajo Nation public schools in the Central Consolidated School District. In our CEAD Discovery Studios programs, we plan to serve at least 60 people. In our Farm + Food programs, we plan to supply affordable healthy and nutritious fresh to at least 20 families through CSA Harvest Shares and employ at least 4 interns and 2 apprentices on our Educational Farm and partner farms.
In five years, we plan to house our proposal in our own facilities and serve at least 800 people annually across all of our programs.
What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and -- importantly -- how will you achieve them?
OMO CEAD Innovation Center is guided by six goals:
1. Build the capacity of sovereign, indigenous systems in the Navajo Nation.
2. Become a leader in 21st-century creative education for students, adults, elders, and aspiring professionals.
3. Reclaim and revitalize indigenous cultural knowledge and philosophy systems to enrich the environments, cognitive constructs, and general wellbeing of indigenous people, artists, designers, scientists, and scholars across the world.
4. Promote a supportive and inclusive community to establish omo as a home for people of all races, ethnicities, classes, gender identities, and ages.
5. Shape a just society by offering positive and measurable contributions at the individual, local, regional, continental, and global scale.
6. Leave a healthier ecology than the one we inherited through reciprocal, inclusive, sustainable, and empathetic (RISE) practices.
What type of organization is your solution team?
How many people work on your solution team?
Our Board of Directors was recently joined by 8 highly experienced and knowledgeable individuals. We are currently in the process of formalizing the Executive Director position as well as several key staff positions. While we do not have any staff yet, over 20 volunteers are ready to assist us.
How long have you been working on your solution?
Why are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?
Our team is well-positioned to deliver this solution because we truly understand the challenges our community. We are all committed to making a meaningful contribution to a reconciled planet where decolonized and indigenized systems guide the lives of our youth, communities, and nations. Half of our founding team grew up on the reservation lands of the Navajo Nation in the communities that will be directly impacted by our solution. Our other half represent empathetic, supportive individuals from India, Lebanon, Mexico, and the United States who wish to see historically marginalized voices placed at the forefront. As holders of graduate and undergraduate degrees in architecture, engineering, and environmental science, we all wholeheartedly believe in the educational potency of project-based learning, culturally-informed pedagogies, creative design thinking, and the architectural design studio model.
To ensure this we deliver a high-quality, innovative service to our community, we formed remarkable leadership and advisory teams who have a proven, measurable record of success as well as decades of experience in community development, various indigenous philosophies/pedagogies, educational leadership, business management, fundraising, curriculum development, and entrepreneurship.
Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)
Why are you applying to Solve?
The MIT Solve Indigenous Communities Fellowship will be an explosive catalyst for the implementation and growth of the OMO CEAD Innovation Center. Although still in its infancy, our solution has received an extraordinary level of support and is in a unique position to redefine education in marginalized indigenous communities and beyond. Visibility gifted through this Fellowship will help us propagate the movement to build culturally-relevant K-12 curricula around holistic design thinking, design studios, project-based learning, and social/emotional learning. Through this, we hope to inspire new solutions and mutually-beneficial relationships. We will also look to identify additional funding opportunities that will help us serve the wonderful people of our community.
OMO CEAD Innovation Center is at a point in its development where our success largely depends on our ability to effectively expand our network, build an innovative curriculum, and acquire resources for our program prototypes. This also means the direction of our organization is still malleable. Here, we look forward to guidance and mentorship from MIT Solve's remarkable group of experienced leaders.
Should our team be selected to pitch our solution at the MIT Solve Challenge Finals, exposure to a global audience would be a monumental contribution to our mission to sow the seeds of decolonized, indigenized, and reconciled planet. We hope that others join us in our pursuit of a harmonious 21st-Century cultural and ecological consciousness that nurtures and protects rather than exploits. Like a cell and a city, we are out of many, one.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.
Yes, I wish to apply for this prize
Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Prize to advance your solution?
Our pedagogical model is inseparable from the holistic teachings of the ancestral philosophy of the Diné. Embedded in the four sacred cardinal directions, this philosophy is expressed in concepts and values associated with natural elements, cycles, and processes. Here, life is placed in a harmonious relationship with the natural world and uses this to teach principles of health, well-being, and personal development. Therefore, we have centralized this philosophy in our pedagogy and encourage our students to absorb the teachings of our ancestors and explore them through their work.
Ultimately, we wish to raise the collective health and wellbeing of our students, communities, economies, and ecologies suffering from absurdly high rates of poverty, food insecurity, environmental pollution, ecological destabilization, and intergenerational trauma. Therefore, we will promote a holistic approach to health and wellness through our all of our programs and deliver affordable healthy, fresh food to our community in a sustainable, culturally-informed CSA Harvest Share program.
We will use the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Prize to acquire vital farm equipment for our Educational Farm; hire a farm manager; fund youth summer farm internships; develop an online platform for the OMO CEAD Innovation Center and a point-of-sale system for our CSA Harvest Shares program; and acquire student project materials for our initial CEAD Discovery Studios.
Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The ASA Prize for Equitable Education? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.
Yes, I wish to apply for this prize
Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The ASA Prize for Equitable Education to advance your solution?
Technological experimentation and the development of digital skills are tantamount to the success of anyone participating in our Innovation School and CEAD Discovery Studios. Students in our programs will become familiar with and skilled in various digital design tools as they explore a wide range of topics and craft unique solutions to real-world problems. This method breaks the rigidity of the current education system by rewarding and nurturing divergent thinking as well as the unique passions, interests, and abilities of students in marginalized communities.
To establish ourselves as a leader in 21st-Century creative education, we must present professional development opportunities to educators unfamiliar with our pedagogical approach. This may manifest in trainings that cover topics like innovation program design, design studio methods, creative design thinking, portfolio-based assessment, project-based learning, digital design tools, and equipment expertise.
We will use the ASA Prize for Equitable Education to hire and train a CEAD Discovery Studio Coach and help our team acquire digital design tools, fabrication equipment, and design studio materials for our students.
Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the Innovation for Women Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.
Yes, I wish to apply for this prize
Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The AI For Humanity Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.
No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution