Art education professor educates high school students about global water crisis

B. Stephen Carpenter II shows students a finished portable ceramic water filter.  Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A group of Virginia Beach high school students visited Penn State's University Park campus in early September to learn how to respond to the global water crisis by making point-of-use ceramic water filters. The visit was part of a curriculum research project led by B. Stephen Carpenter II, professor of art education, professor-in-charge of the art education program, and director of Reservoir Studio.

The African Diaspora Water Crisis Curriculum Project, funded in part by a grant from Penn State’s Africana Research Center, aims to develop and implement arts-based high school curriculum and instructional resources in response to the global water crisis in the African Diaspora. Approximately 345 million people in Africa and 32 million in Latin America and the Caribbean lack adequate access to potable water, according to The curriculum and instructional resources will be developed in collaboration with teachers in schools with predominantly African American student populations for use in their international baccalaureate programs.

Carpenter coordinated the visit with Erika Hitchcock, an art teacher at Green Run Collegiate High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Carpenter taught Hitchcock when he was a professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Twenty-two Green Run students came to Penn State for four days, where they attended courses in art education, studio art, and art history, in addition to learning how to make ceramic water filters.

Carpenter and the students talked extensively about the global water crisis, including affordable technology responses, and how they could take what they learned back home to Virginia.

“In our discussions, the students asked pointed, researched questions about the global water crisis, affordable access to water, and appropriate technology responses,” said Carpenter. “Their interest is genuine and extends beyond merely responding to a class assignment. They seem committed to contributing positively and productively to the work.”

The students reported that their visit forced them to think about how millions of people around the world still do not have access to clean water.

“This trip was not about going up there just to make pots, but understanding the concept of this plan,” said one student. “I thank Dr. Carpenter for inviting us to Penn State to refresh our minds about this crisis that's still in the midst of our society. I believe that with hard work, dedication and determination, this project could change the world.”

The curriculum Carpenter and the teachers develop will focus on — among other responses — the production, use and implications of affordable ceramic water filters in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Honduras. A key aim of the project is to enable African American students, their classmates, and their teachers to situate themselves critically within the African Diaspora through direct exploration of the global water crisis through artistic, scholarly and socially engaged practices. 

Financial support for the student visit was provided by the Penn State School of Visual Arts, Reservoir Studio, and the College of Arts and Architecture multicultural and recruitment programs office. For more information on Carpenter’s curriculum project, visit

Last Updated September 28, 2015