"It is my ultimate goal as an educator to help create self-aware, well rounded, and creative individuals and artists."

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About the new Photography & Digital Media Program at Siena Heights University

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As an artist, my outlook and style are most often informed by current events and pop culture through a feminist lens. I create work that explores my identity through the use of lens-based and time-based new media. For me, identity is at the root of understanding my place in my world, and my artwork is my way of engaging others in a discourse about the marginalization of those on the fringe. Identity and diversity are essential to my art making practice, so it's not surprising they are also a major influence on how I teach. The classroom should always be a safe space and a community for discussion and growth. I make every effort to stay in tune with the ever-evolving and changing climate of diversity and how that directly impacts post-secondary students. In the mission statement of the university, we tout the importance of “respecting the dignity of all” and that is an essential element to how I conduct myself in the classroom. Knowing who my students are, why they are here, and where they hope to go is just as important as knowing the material I teach. Perhaps more than in any other classroom space, art students are asked to bare themselves in often deeply personal ways. It is vital to build a classroom community where safety in expression and risk is at the center of all classroom interactions. It is my firmly held belief that students cannot and will not learn in spaces where they are not taken seriously and made to feel safe in their expression.

Rather than erasing the diverse experiences of my students, I ask them to cultivate those experiences into valuable reflections of their culture and themselves. I want my students to develop deep and meaningful questions that they can explore through their art and design practice, and I truly believe this has to start at the foundation level. I help them to cultivate their personal and cultural identity as they cultivate their aesthetic points of view. This is an important element of what they are expected to take away from their time in studio art courses, which is why “Personal and Cultural Identity” has it’s own section within our department learning outcomes. All this comes back to my long-term focus on community, which ultimately is about understanding identity and embracing diversity in the classroom and in society at large. This ties directly into my single greatest strength as an educator, which is my student-centered approach. Everything I do in my classroom revolves around meeting my students where they are, understanding them as artists and individuals, and embracing my role as a facilitator of their creative and critical growth.

Through a combination of lectures, demonstrations, workshops, artist examples, and critique, I strive to make a classroom environment conducive to refined artistic thought and dialogue about the work that students are creating. I encourage the students to think of everything as an experience: each assignment, exercise, or piece becoming part of his or her artistic growth. This helps to create a setting that is comfortable for the students, which encourages risk taking with their work. By evaluating their level of conceptual thinking, risk taking, technical knowledge, and critique participation, I am able to assess where the individual students are when the class starts, and how to meet their needs and growth within the goals of the course. I like my students to think about the class as a community, so I stress the importance of peer review and participation in discussion, critique, and grading. This means that in both studio classes and lecture classes, I have students spend a fair amount of time in smaller groups in which they not only talk and think together, but create together. In keeping with this emphasis on process and liberal arts learning, I work very hard to create a classroom milieu based on trust and equality.

 I measure success in a variety of ways in the classroom. I've found that by putting trust in the students to help determine what success is and means to them is by far the most effective strategy. Many students coming into a college setting are right out of high school and they have no sense of what it means to be a self-reliant learner. On the first day of class, I like to ask students to think critically about how they want to be assessed. This opens up the door for collaboration and community in the classroom. Often times I will have them break into smaller groups and talk candidly about what their individual goals are for the course. After engaging in this activity, we draw up an agreement for how much say the students want in class assessment, and I honor that. Nearly 100% of the time, the students want some form of faculty feedback, balanced with self-assessment and group critique. The percentages change from class to class, and many times at the mid-term we discuss if the process is working and take time to reevaluate our arrangement. But by the end, the work is always stronger in my courses where this method is used versus the standard "faculty only" assessment model. I find this to be successful because by asking students to invest in their community, they take the work and the assessment of that work much more seriously. This process is meant as a way to honor them as diverse individuals. Measuring student success in the classroom is also how I learn and improve as an educator. It teaches me when something is or isn't working. It shows me when I need to make adjustments to my curriculum or my approach. I tether my effectiveness and success as an instructor to the success of my students; that level of student focus keeps me actively engaged in my classes, and with the material to insure I too am evolving and improving with each passing semester.  

It is my ultimate goal as an educator to help create self-aware, well rounded, and creative individuals and artists. Each student, no matter what their background or long term goals, can benefit from studio art education as a means to better articulate creative concepts, and see their world in a new aesthetically critical way.