School of Art, Media, and Technology

Meet The Awesome People In DT: Cynthia Lawson

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The Design and Technology MFA program is full of energetic, unique individuals who work together to think, inspire, and create with technology. This series, by journalist Rachel Signer, provides a glimpse into some of the people in the DT division of the Art, Media, and Technology program who work that make DT such a great place to work and study. This one is about Professor Cynthia Lawson, who is helping to found a “nomadic university.” What’s that, you ask? Read on…

RS: What is your main involvement in the AMT program and how long have you been teaching at Parsons?

Cynthia Lawson: I am faculty in Design Strategies and I currently teach the MFA D&T thesis seminar, both semesters. I’ve been teaching at Parsons for eight years.

What do you love about teaching at Parsons?

The flexibility it affords me to be able to engage in a wide range of projects, including internal things, like the administrative side of academia, and faculty governance, in addition to my teaching and research. I like the diversity of my practices within the university as well as outside. I also love teaching in a school that has such a great reputation because it opens many doors for faculty who want to engage outside.

What do you like, and not like, about living in New York City?

What’s exciting about NYC is that it’s culturally rich. I don’t think it’s possible to think of some interest group or cultural practice that isn’t present in the city. As an artist, that’s overwhelming but enriching. And I love living in Brooklyn because I can get away from the noise and urban density of the city. I don’t like that life in NYC revolves around work routine – commuting. I’m Latin American, Colombian, so I prefer cultures in cities that revolve around family, food, leisure. Being packed like a sardine on the subway can be really miserable.

What are you working on right now that is exciting to you?

There’s a large group of New School faculty creating a “nomadic university,” a free university that would give excellent higher education toward anyone who would like it, with a particular focus on marginalized communities. We’re interested in influencing the institutions within which we work, addressing the cost of education and the endless cycle of needing a degree to get a job, going into debt, then jobs don’t pay enough to pay off student debt, and people find themselves in miserable day jobs to pay the bills. I’m interested in how we can take advantage of existing online resources to do this. And I’m involved in the Education and Empowerment Working Group at Occupy Wall Street.

What’s something unique about your background the influences how you work?

I grew up in five different countries. Spanish was my first language. I’m also fluent in French. I direct a research project called DEED – development through empowerment, entrepreneurship, and design. And the goals of DEED are to support artisans in emerging economies, and to create immersive international fieldwork experiences for our students. I encourage student not to think about design as a way to create more stuff but to create social change. I’ve also been involved in our community affiliate school in the Dominican Republican. I also don’t believe in a top-down hierarchy of learning.

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