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Turning a Hobby Into A Powerful STEM Education Tool

How ECE Student Calista Frederick-Jaskiewicz is Doing Good Through Origami

Atlanta, GA

Calista Frederick-Jaskiewicz was six years old when she received an origami book for Christmas. That gift started a life-long love affair with paper folding. Her self-taught hobby eventually led to the formation of Origami Salami, the computer engineering major’s international student-led movement that combines educational outreach with community service.

Frederick-Jaskiewicz created Origami Salami when she was a freshman in high school. The organization took shape through the Davidson Institute for Talent Development (DITD) Young Scholar Ambassador Program, which offers resources and training in social entrepreneurship to young people between the ages of five and 17. Through the program’s guidance, Frederick-Jaskiewicz launched her movement in 2009 in order to encourage other students to learn science and math through paper folding.

What seems like an entertaining pastime on the surface is actually an ideal way to teach abstract ideas to students who may ordinarily be intimidated by the subjects of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Frederick-Jaskiewicz realized the combination of art and science is a powerful tool for kids to learn complex concepts in a fun way and can benefit those who learn best by hands-on exercises. So she set out to share her love of STEM and origami with others.

The Origami Salami website provides resources in the form of mentorship connections, research information, training guides for students and teachers, workshops, and sample projects. Under Frederick-Jaskiewicz’s leadership, the group has grown into a world-wide community with 26 different chapters on five continents and a robust Facebook group.

One aspect of paper folding that Frederick-Jaskiewicz likes is its ability to solve mathematical equations and provide proofs of geometrical constructions. Origami in many instances can accomplish complex structures that cannot be achieved with the traditional tools of geometry—a straightedge and a compass. While students master folding angles, cubes, and fractals, they inadvertently learn about math.

Real-world applications of origami apply to many engineering challenges, Frederick-Jaskiewicz explains. Similar patterns in folding can be found in vehicle air bags, solar shields, and even DNA and proteins. Even the human brain is made up of folds.

For example, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (scheduled to launch in October 2018) will use a sunshield which is folded 12 times in order to fit into the launch rocket and will unfold once deployed. Researchers at Oxford University designed a heart stent that uses the origami “water bomb” base to collapse the device until it is positioned to keep an artery open. The Fold It project, created by scientists at the University of Washington, uses an online puzzle game that asks users to fold proteins to discover new structures and designs. This crowdsourced research could lead to cures for a number of diseases.

She’s particularly inspired by Robert Lang, the NASA physicist who quit his job in 2001 to focus on his passion for origami. He is now recognized as one of the world leaders in the art and is known for his intricate models of insects and animals. And although he switched career direction, his designs are still being used in real-world engineering applications.

Beyond being a tool to represent engineering concepts, origami is a meditative practice which teaches patience and discipline. It also encourages creativity. Origami is, after all, an art. In addition to technical expertise, these “soft skills” are incredibly important for engineers and scientists.

"Doing origami is undercover STEAM. The 'A' in STEAM is art. Science, engineering, technology, and math are beautiful, elegant disciplines. Why not learn about them artfully? I like it that I can show how an origami model is math you can hold in your hand," Frederick-Jaskiewicz said.

In addition to STEM outreach, Origami Salami chapters practice community building through folding. A further initiative called “Folding for Good” was born of Origami Salami and uses origami as a means to support good causes.

One example of a project that embodies the organization’s mission to improve the world by community service was “Operation Sandy Hook: Peace.” After the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Origami Salami put out a call for origami cranes. Inspired by a Japanese legend that promises a wish to anyone who folds 1,000 paper cranes, the goal was to collect that amount as a symbol of peace and healing. The outpouring of support was far beyond what Frederick-Jaskiewicz imagined. More than 10,000 cranes were mailed to Origami Salami from all over the world—many with personal notes of hope and love for the victims of Sandy Hook.

It was a gesture of solidarity and remembrance in the form of beautiful, multi-colored strings of paper cranes. There were so many they couldn’t be housed in the school. Fortunately, the Carnegie Science Center in Frederick-Jaskiewicz’s hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was able to display 5,000 of the cranes in October 2013 as a tribute to the victims. The exhibit was coupled with workshops so visitors could learn to make their own cranes.

Of all of the hundreds of shapes she’s folded, Frederick-Jaskiewicz is most proud of her Ancient Dragon designed by origami master Satoshi Kamiya. It took her over five hours to fold and required 274 different steps.

“It’s awesome that origami can help people understand STEM principles, but I also love the fact that it requires so much patience and perseverance. It’s great training for the types of challenges you encounter and the stamina you need as an engineer,” Frederick-Jaskiewicz said.

Additional Photos

Calista Frederick-Jaskiewicz at the Carnegie Science Center.

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Calista Frederick-Jaskiewicz at the Bridgewater Bookfest

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Satoshi Kamiya's "Ancient Dragon"

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Last revised May 15, 2020