Adding Claibourne Smith’s Wikipedia article: “like it was a piece of art that I kept looking at”

Mahmoud “Mody” Hassan and his cat, Shaki. Image courtesy Mody Hassan, all rights reserved.

Mahmoud “Mody” Hassan is a freshman at Rutgers University Newark. It was his first term of college, and he had just started at Rutgers after being born and raised in Egypt. So there were a lot of changes in his life when he showed up to Dr. Laura Porterfield’s class on “Education and Social Change in the Black Diaspora” and learned he’d be writing a Wikipedia article as a class assignment. Dr. Porterfield was participating in a project run by Wiki Education and funded by the Broadcom Foundation to increase the number of biographies on Wikipedia of diverse people in STEM.

“The concept of making a page on Wikipedia sounded too crazy and made me consider dropping the class,” Mody admits. “But I never did.”

Despite that initial nervousness, Mody dug in on the assignment. He chose to write about Claibourne Smith, an African American chemist who helped advance Delaware State University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU).

“After reading about him and how much information about him was nowhere to be found, I decided that he should get a page on Wikipedia,” he says.

Mody tackled two different areas of learning: (1) learning about Claibourne Smith and his achievements, and (2) learning how to edit Wikipedia. While he didn’t enjoy the technical difficulties of creating the page, he loved publishing the final article.

“So this assignment took longer than the other assignments, but the most important and different thing is that this article was going to go online for people to read and consume knowledge from, and it was my responsibility that those people weren’t misled by what I wrote,” Mody says. “The feeling of having the assignment done and having it published online for everyone to see was such a flex, and I loved that part.”

He hopes more faculty participate; if they’re going to ask students to write the equivalent of an article anyway, why not publish it on Wikipedia so everyone can benefit? And the experience has taught him useful skills about editing Wikipedia. While he’s busy with schoolwork during the term, he’s already planning to create more articles on the Arabic Wikipedia this summer.

“Making a page about Smith meant a lot to me because I felt like it was a piece of art that I kept looking at,” Mody says.


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