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Innovators Bring Work to Life at IDEAS Expo

Ioana Patringenaru | Feb. 28, 2011

Kip Fulbeck, a UCSD alumnus, was the keynote speaker at the Innovation Day Expo Friday at RIMAC.
Photos/Erik Jepsen

When Kip Fulbeck was born 45 years ago, his parents’ marriage was still illegal in some states. For years, Fulbeck, who is of white and Asian descent, could only fill out one box to describe his ethnicity. He felt these boxes were forcing him to pick between his mother and his father, he explained. He struggled to define his identity as he came to UC San Diego, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1988 and a master’s of fine arts in 1992.

At UCSD, Fulbeck met many mentors who helped him find his voice as an artist. He came back to campus Friday to serve as the keynote speaker for the Innovation Day Expo at RIMAC, part of UCSD’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

Innovation played an important role in UCSD’s rise as a world-class university in just 50 years, Chancellor Marye Anne Fox said Friday at RIMAC. This spirit of entrepreneurship and collaboration is still alive today, she said. She invited the audience to meet dozens of innovators who found their inspiration at UCSD, just as Fulbeck did, and were taking part in the expo. They had come to show off their work with hands-on demonstrations in a wide range of specialties, from medicine, to engineering, to social justice, to the arts.

Exploring multiracial identity

The arts, of course, are Fulbeck’s area of expertise. He is a professor of art at UC Santa Barbara, the author of four books and the director of 12 short films. He has performed and exhibited in more than 20 countries. Friday, the audience got a taste of some of his work, which mostly explores multiracial identity in the United States.

Chancellor Marye Anne Fox said that innovation is an important part of UCSD’s excellence.

Some of it is light and funny. “Lilo and Me,” a short film, compares Fulbeck to all the vaguely multiracial characters featured in Disney movies, including Mowgli, of “Jungle Book” fame and Mulan, the female character in the film of the same name.

Much of Fulbeck’s work is autobiographical. When the U.S. Census in 2000 finally allowed Americans to check more than one box to describe their ethnicity, Fulbeck toured the country and photographed men and women of multiracial heritage. He also took statements about identity from his subjects and published them in a book. “I’m not a diversity speaker,” he said. “I’m an artist.”

Diversity, he added, is about much more than race or ethnicity. It’s about age, education levels, economic status, religion, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability and much, much more.

After the birth of his son, he went back on the road, this time to photograph multiracial children. “I wanted to give him a space or a venue to allow him to be who he wants to be,” Fulbeck said, referring to his son. The children drew or wrote to describe themselves. Fulbeck again collected these pieces in a book, “Mixed: Portraits of Multiracial Kids,” which came out last year. He said he loved that children didn’t automatically default to talking about race when asked who they are.

“Identity is not something for me to decide,” Fulbeck said. “All barriers of race and ethnicity break down under close scrutiny.”

Innovative mobile phone apps

A audience member takes a shot at trying a hands-on exhibit.

Children, and their parents, also are central to the work of another UCSD alumnus who took part in the Innovation Day Expo Friday. Michel Kripalani started Oceanhouse Media, a publisher of applications for mobile phones, many featuring children’s books and games, including Dr. Seuss titles.

After graduating from UCSD in 1989, Kripalani founded Presto Studios, a company that created many successful video games, including The Journeyman Project. Oceanhouse Media is his new venture. He brought on board another UCSD alumnus, Greg Uhler, as the company’s development director. The two realized that children’s books were a natural niche waiting to be filled in the mobile apps publishing market. Their connection to UCSD got them a meeting with Seuss Enterprises, which allowed them to create apps around many of Theodor Geisel’s works.

Kripalani was a visual arts major at UCSD and he credits his teachers for letting him explore unusual avenues. “I was that guy in class who wanted to do something different,” he said. Instead of trying to make him conform, professors gave him ample room for independent study. “They had a real willingness to help me learn,” he said.

Protecting the environment

An audience member tries out a theremin, a rare musical instrument.

Friday’s expo also showcased the innovative work of some UCSD teachers. Oscar Romo, a lecturer in the urban studies and planning department, has long labored to protect the Tijuana River estuary on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Commercial and industrial pollution coming from 75 illegal trash dumps in Mexico is now threatening the estuary. Friday, Jennifer Leonard, a UCSD student and intern at the Tijuana River reserve, recalled wading into 10-foot-deep piles of medical waste during a visit to an illegal dumping site.

Mexico’s federal laws prohibit trash dumping, but local enforcement is lax, Leonard said. Romo and his students have designed bottles equipped with radio-frequency ID tags, which they’ve deposited at the illegal dumping sites. After last week’s storms, more than a half-dozen containers had found their way across the border, into the estuary. Romo is working with Tijuana officials and hopes to spur them into action, Leonard said.

Innovative student training

But perhaps the biggest crowd at Friday’s expo gathered around what looked like a scene at an emergency room. Dr. Daniel Davis, an associate clinical professor at the School of Medicine, was performing chest compressions on what looked like an unconscious man. But on closer inspection, the man turned out to be a dummy, equipped with the latest in simulation technology.

An audience member learns how to perform chest compressions on a dummy.

SimMan, manufactured in Norway, represents the latest in training technology for medical school students—and is being used right here at UCSD, said Helene Hoffman, assistant dean for educational computing at the School of Medicine. The dummy can simulate breathing, a pulse and can even recognize and simulate responses to medications.

It will be used in the School of Medicine’s new simulation center, set to open this fall, which will include a simulated emergency room, operating room and birthing room, as well as state-of-the-art telemedicine facilities, Hoffman said. “It’s the building of the future,” she said.

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