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At the Intersection of Artifcts & STEM

Ellen Goodwin, Artifcts
October 05, 2021

It’s fitting that in the middle of the National Hispanic American Heritage month we turn to the topic of STEM. If you have missed the STEM rocket ship, it stands for Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, and reports have it that it was in fact the STEM Institute initiative of the Center for the Advancement of Hispanic in Science and Engineering Education that first coined the term back in 1992.  

I am too old to have been indoctrinated into the STEM programs the way that my daughter has already, but that’s not for lack of trying. My aunt Melinda Piket-May is a professor of electrical engineering and has patiently and persistently pushed open doors for women in the sciences. When I was in college, she provided me the opportunity to work with freshman engineering students who while brilliant in mathematics and specialized fields of engineering, suffered a combination of lack of interest and skill in writing.  

Now I aim to play my part in correcting this skills gap and Artifcts has given me that platform. Girlstart interviewed me recently (check it out), because I have become a female  entrepreneur of a tech startup—even though I have no formal tech background—landing be squarely in a STEM field. What my co-founder Heather Nickerson and I have built together through Artifcts could serve as a megaphone for girls in STEM to get into the practice of writing about their experiences from a young age in a privacy-first environment focused on what they create.   

Click the image to access the interview with Girlstart.

Researchers, scientists, engineers... all have to document their processes not to mention communicate in journals, patent applications, media, grant applications, and more. They must be able to communicate, not just create!  

Circling back to Hispanic American Heritage Month, we know how abysmally people of color and females alike continue to be underrepresented in STEM educational programs and labor markets thanks to continued tracking by US Census Bureau and thoughtful analysis from the likes of the Pew Research Center. The Girlstart after school program alone brings STEM to young girls in nearly 90 high-need schools to help address access gaps in STEM. But schools and programs like Girlstart cannot do this in isolation. Parents, grandparents, guardians, and other mentors all need to be engaged in their girls' experiences and Artifcts offers an easy way to do so by meeting the adults where they are at - showing up in parents’ social media feeds and emails and from the voice of the girls. You will be surprised what the girls will tell you if you hand them the megaphone and listen.  

Stay tuned for more on Artifcts in STEM. We will be teaming up with Girlstart this DeSTEMber to bring the Artifcts platform to a Girlstart camp in Philadelphia where the girls will capture and preserve their STEM experiences, share them, learn from them, and be proud of their accomplishments. 

What's New at Artifcts
It Wouldn't Be Thanksgiving Without...
Dear Readers,
The holidays are fast approaching and here at Artifcts we are already thinking about our favorite “things.” High on that list are recipes. Nothing evokes memories quite like the smell, taste, and look of our favorite recipes. They may be ones made year after year or passed down for generations. “It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without....” Or maybe you have a new favorite, one that was discovered during our national COVID-induced cooking craze.
Nothing evokes memories quite like the smell, taste, and look of our favorite recipes.
For me, nothing says “holiday” quite like one of my mom’s tea breads. These breads were always present on our holiday table, almost as important as the turkey. (Or if you were to ask some of my family members, MORE important than the turkey.) They are simple to make and present beautifully when arrayed on a platter or served warm from the oven. Sweet enough to appeal to children and children at heart, but not too sweet to be reserved for the dessert table. (Although I grew up eating tea breads in lieu of more conventional desserts.)
  
I am now the “keeper” of the recipes as my mother is no longer here. I can always count on a phone call or two from my aunts and brothers the week before Thanksgiving to get copies of the recipes and to double check the countless alterations my mother made to each recipe. Did she double the cranberries? Omit the orange zest? Was it two bananas or three?
I am now the “keeper” of the recipes as my mother is no longer here.
This year I have decided to Artifct the recipes and share with family and friends. No more searching through old photos, disintegrating recipe books, or recalling from memory the substitutions that my mother made. The stories, photos, and memories are all here in one place, as well as every ingredient, alteration, and the occasional quote of kitchen wisdom passed down from my mother to me.
I invite you Dear Reader to join me in Artifcting your favorite family recipes this holiday season. Keep the traditions alive and share the love (or at least the banana bread). 
Happy Artifcting,
Heather 
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A Harp, an Accordion, and 60 Years of Merriment

He said it started with a train ride to buy a harp at the turn of the 20th century.  

Jerry May’s father made young Jerry wait until he was 10 years old to learn to play the accordion. Begging since the age of seven, his dad wanted to be sure his eldest son “knew the value of his music” and would not give up on it. But Jerry would never give up. 

Music was in his blood. From Jerry's grandfather taking the Burlington railroad into Chicago to purchase a Chicago Harp to his mother and eventually his siblings each playing piano, music was an ever-present part of Jerry’s life.  

The accordion by design is a lonely instrument. With the keyboard on the right and bass on the left, you are your own accompaniment. But you don’t have to be. By the time Jerry was 13, he was taking his 12 bass accordion to accompany his twin sisters who would sing at events in town. Jerry recalled the amazing payment they received after playing for the local fire department where their dad volunteered - a pizza dinner! This was the early 1950s and pizza was just getting its start. He delighted in the novel treat. 

12 bass accordion          

Fast forward to Jerry’s senior year at the Marmion Military Academy, a local Catholic high school, when he joined the school’s professional band as the only accordion among largely classic brass musicians. He was inspired and upon graduation he and a friend started a band named the Mello Tones.  

For the next 40 years, the band—which also included tenor sax, alto, clarinet, drums, and a bass—played classic dance tunes, including polkas, waltzes, and period classics from the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, at weddings, clubs, private events and parties, riffing off each other, and loving life. Jerry led the band with a singular mission after all — making people happy.  

Jerry Performing with His 120 Bass Accordion

About 20 years ago Jerry shifted his music back to his family’s German roots. He formed a new band, Jerry’s Happy Wanderers, and with lederhosen, a pinned fedora, and a collection of over 30 German songs the now seasoned musician found his dance card fully booked with requests to play Oktoberfests, pubs, and special events throughout the US and Europe. He was now only one of a few remaining accordion players in the 80,000 strong American Federation of Musicians and the only one playing German music.  

Jerry is now in his 80s and intends to retire from professional music at the end of this year. We suspect you may still find him in one-man shows at the request of his family, like the snippet above from his recent gig at Two Brothers. His 60 years have brought him as much joy as the merriment he has inspired. From state fairs and festivals, river cruises and clubs, and even those sparkly Chicago high rises, Jerry has brought what is becoming a lost art to many and become one of its keepers along the way. 

We close with a tantalizing surprise. Artifcts from Jerry’s extended private collection, which includes accordions that came into Jerry’s life from those who play no more.  

Accordion gifted to Jerry by woman dying of cancer     Accordion gifted to Jerry by couple during 65th birthday celebration

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The Importance of Digitizing Your Old Photographs, Documents, and other Artifacts

Shortly after the launch of Artifcts, I was introduced to Steven Fuhrman, Business Manager of Didlake Imaging. Steven and I immediately connected over a shared mission, helping individuals, families, and corporations preserve pieces of “their” story. Be it family wedding photos from generations gone by to historic maps, documents, and other physical pieces of paper that help shed a light on who we are, and where we’ve been. 

Steven and I also bonded over our respective privacy first mindsets. It’s not often you find someone who goes the extra mile to help people protect their own privacy. I had an ear-to-ear grin as I listened to Steven describe in detail the steps he and his team take to preserve people’s privacy when handling their most sensitive and cherished objects. 

Two months and several conversations later, I had the pleasure of taking a tour of Didlake’s Manassas, VA digital imaging lab, and sitting down with Steven and Valerie Spencer, Director of Business Development, for an interview/extended conversation. 

Seeing that we at Artifcts get asked from time to time, “what should I do with this box of old photos,” we thought we’d share our conversation with our ARTI Community. But before I do, one more comment: their facility is amazing. First, it is spotless. Paper generates a LOT of dust, and you would never know it by touring the Didlake facility. Second, they take security to heart. From cell phone lock boxes to security cameras. No stone was left unturned when planning the security footprint of the facility.  

What should I do with this box of old photos?

Having said that, on to the interview! 

Heather Nickerson: Didlake has a fascinating, decades long corporate history as a non-profit. What prompted you to get into the digitization business?  

Valerie Spencer: Didlake’s mission is to create opportunities that enrich the lives of people with disabilities. (Editor’s Note: Didlake prides itself on hiring local individuals with disabilities for a variety of jobs, such as photo scanning.) The management team at the time saw an opportunity with the Coast Guard to digitize large format drawings leveraging our past experience digitizing microfilm. Our first major investment was a large format scanner, a requirement for this project. Once we could demonstrate our success with large format, we could easily do other, less complex formats. Given our government contracting background, we pursued other large format and traditional digitization projects, including one with an airport. This then led us into the mass digitization market. 

Heather: Tell us about the clients you typically take on.  

Valerie: There is no typical project or typical client! Really, we work with anyone who has paper, anyone who has photos, maps, documents, student files, etc. We saw a need to support people cleaning out their homes during the pandemic and the holidays, prompting us to invest in specialty photo scanning equipment and to make improvements to our webpage. 

We work with anyone who has paper, anyone who has photos, maps, documents, student files, etc.

Heather: Any surprises or heart-warming stories from over the years?  

Steven Fuhrman: Our goal is to never turn anyone away. Most people send us boxes of photos, but no job is too small. One customer sought us out in the middle of the pandemic. He had lost his dog, and he only had three or four really good photos of the dog. He asked if we would digitize them for him as a way to memorialize his pet. Since it was in the middle of COVID, we did it for him while he waited in his car. It brought tears to his eyes knowing the photos would be preserved for years to come.   

Another story that comes to mind is that one of our clients is an owner of an art gallery. She had recently discovered a box of letters that her father had wrote home to his family during the Vietnam War. She wanted to preserve the letters and his story. Our team handled the letters very carefully, taking them out of their original envelopes, digitizing them, and returning them to their original envelopes and safely storing/returning them. We were honored that she trusted us enough with those family treasures. You don’t just hand something like that over to anyone. We wanted to make someone’s life better and help preserve that piece of family history.  

We were honored that she trusted us enough with those family treasures. You don’t just hand something like that over to anyone. 

Heather: I can imagine you are dealing with people’s most cherished artifacts. What do you tell clients to reassure them that their items will be safe with you?  

Valerie: We have a stellar reputation and have built up a lot of trust over the years. If the U.S. government trusts us with its most important documents, that says something. We also reassure clients that all our employees have background checks and have signed confidentiality agreements. We also franchise three The UPS stores and are experts in shipping and packaging; we know how to protect items in transit.  

Heather: Not every digitization company has a state-of-the-art, secure facility. Can you tell us a bit more about that?  

Valerie: Security is really important to us so we chose a location in a professional business park occupied by other county service providers. We utilize security cameras to track entry from the exterior and access control systems to permit access to sensitive internal areas. Our storage facility is dual climate controlled, and we use a secure cloud server for our digital services. We have invested in the security infrastructure to make sure people feel safe sending us their items.  

Heather: You know the story of Artifcts. How do you think Artifcts could help you in your work with your clients? 

Valerie: Artifcts is a natural complement to what we do at Didlake. We’re both preserving items in a digital manner and making it accessible and easy for people to share their memories. We all like to tell stories, and Artifcts lets the user tell the story.  

We all like to tell stories, and Artifcts lets the user tell the story.  

If you are looking for someone to help digitize your old photos, documents, maps, and more, contact Steven at Steve@DidlakeImaging.com

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