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The Power of Partnership, Innovation and Learning

Creating Together: Ukiah High School MESA Students Collaborate with Local Artist to Create Origami Installation

A collaborative origami landscape project was designed and directed by local artist Olivia Consterdine and folded by the 73 hardworking students of the MESA program at Ukiah High School. MESA – Math, Engineering, Science, Achievement – provides college prep support for students, focusing especially on providing equitable opportunities for underrepresented students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. In addition, MESA students can get involved in extracurricular STEM activities, volunteer in the community, and, in this case, create a dynamic math and art project together.


The project was inspired by the landscape around the high school and nearby Low Gap Park. “There’s beauty all around us – even in the middle of chaotic and difficult times. It felt like a great opportunity to focus on the good things and to, quite literally, build a beautiful world together,” Consterdine says about the design of the project.


At the heart of the project – which required 5 months and 4,000 pieces of paper – is the melding of math and art through the Japanese tradition known as origami. Ori means “fold,” and gami refers to “paper.” It’s an art form passed down to Consterdine by her grandmother, Kay Okasaki. “I was pretty young. We were waiting for our food at the restaurant by her house and she started folding a crane from the paper napkins on the table. That’s when she first taught me. It’s a part of my heritage that she gave me and a special connection to her. I love sharing the knowledge of origami – and stories about my grandma – with others,” recalls Consterdine.


While folding, students learned not only the basic folds of origami and how to interpret a folding diagram, but also about the complex geometric shapes they were creating.


“This is a nolid octahedron – imagine a 3-d shape with 8 flat faces... now imagine the skeleton structure inside that 3-d shape,” Consterdine gestures. “That’s what a nolid is... like the skeleton of a shape.” 6 pieces of paper were folded into 1 nolid octahedron. 640 nolid octahedrons total were folded to create the two Low Gap mountains.


Students also folded stellated octahedrons (“imagine that same 3-d shape with 8 faces, but this time, attached a pointy pyramid to each face”) and stellated icosahedrons (“20 faces with pyramids attached”). These, along with some draped fabric, represent the clouds and fog that roll in from the coast through Low Gap.


Of the projects, the students say it was “fun and fascinating,” “challenging,” “calming,” “creative,” “frustrating but good,” and “a way to connect with one another.”


One student, Katya, wrote, “I got to learn more about my classmates and became good friends with them.” Another student, Elijah, wrote, “This collaborative experience was exciting. It felt good working with others.” “I think it’s cool that we made so many [nolid octahedrons] together. It’s crazy,” said Emily. “The experience was good. Made a lot of friends teaming up with new people,” wrote Cecelia. Giancarlo said, “The experience was fun, and I appreciate math/geometry more.” Joanna shared: “I had a really good time learning a new thing. I really liked doing this whole project because I can really say I left my mark on this town with proof. I also get to share all the things I learned with the people in my personal life.” Anthony wrote, “This experience has taught me that trying new things isn’t so bad.” And according to Carmela, “This collaborative experience for me was fun and therapeutic. When I get in the zone folding, it just had a calming sense to it.”


“This project ended up being really therapeutic for students,” echoes MESA instructor Sezgin Ramirez. “My students would fold when they were stressed about other classes or college apps. I even had some students who would take home a stack of papers over the weekend, and on Monday, they’d come into class with a whole bag full of octahedrons. It was amazing to see.”


“Working at this scale was incredibly overwhelming at times,” Consterdine adds. “This project would not have been remotely possible without the amazing students of UHS MESA – and the support of MESA Director Cameron Johnson, MESA instructors Maestra Ramirez and Maestra Torres and my family.”


Consterdine wishes to extend special thanks to the project donors, including Design Shoji, Cameron Johnson, Gary’s Cabinets, and Prehung Doors, and the Yard Sale at Deep Valley Christian School.


The project is currently on display at MEDIUM Art Gallery as part of their youth art exhibition What Inspires You?. The show runs through May 22, 2022. MEDIUM Art Gallery is located in the Ukiah Pear Tree Center (522 E Perkins St, Ukiah, CA 95482) next to Rod’s Shoes. Entrance to the gallery is free, and the space is open to the public Fri 12-8, Sat 12-6, Sun 12-4. 


As for what’s next, Consterdine plans to tackle an origami mosaic with the students of Redwood Academy and Accelerated Achievement during their Artward Bound week in May. And for the students of MESA, it’s on to MESA Day, AP testing, finals, and graduation. But if you were to visit one of the MESA classes now on a quiet afternoon, chances are you would find a student - or several – with paper in hand, folding an octahedron, a heart, a ninja star, or helping each other figure out a new model.


Photos by Olivia Consterdine.