Driven by Art: Four Art and Design Professors Share Their Stories

Creativity is an essential part of Mount Mary University’s identity, and the professors who teach here embrace this both inside and outside of the classroom. Meet four professors from the interior design, art therapy, fine art and graphic design departments whose creative spirits inspire students and inform their own lives.

Adjunct Interior Design Instructor

Anna Janke wanted to be a writer, a jockey and an artist when she was little, but most importantly she wanted to go into business. When she started babysitting for various families at 13 years old, she kept a client notebook.

 Janke graduated with a degree in internal relations and a minor in business from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her goal was to work within a company, work with the international clients visiting the U.S. and work abroad as needed.

 After Janke graduated, she worked as a study abroad adviser for a year and then started working in retail. One night, she and a friend were frustrated with their retail jobs and wanted to find a career as opposed to a job. At the time, she was also managing the building they were living in and was renovating one of the units, so they decided to take some interior design classes.

“That was the mix I was looking for,” Janke said. “The creative side, the business side together in one. It drew me into the field.”

Janke earned an associate’s degree in interior design and a National Council for Interior Design Qualifications Certification. She worked in smaller residential design firms before starting her own business, which she has had for four years now. Her focus is to help elderly people stay in their homes longer.

Janke’s favorite design was for her client Helen, who is in her 80s and wanted to be able to continue to live in her home.

“It’s very specific to her because she didn’t care about resale or what do the neighbors think,” Janke said. “She’s 80. She knows actually what she likes, and she’s very artistic. The wall color, I’ve never done anything like that before. She had all this beautiful artwork through her years of traveling and life and experience that I got to work with.”

Janke tries to incorporate art into all of her classes. She likes making the messy kind of art, especially mixed media.

“I just took a mixed media class myself,” Janke said. “It’s very forgiving because it’s all these layers. If I did a paint by number, I would go crazy.”

As an undergraduate, Janke studied two semesters abroad in China. She had taken two years of Chinese in high school and was interested in the calligraphy and the drawing. 

“Every time there was a break I tried to travel,” Janke said. “Even if I had a week off, I would go to Shanghai. I had a language partner there that I met every week. I would come back and talk to her and she said, ‘You have been to places I’ve never been. I’ve lived here my whole life.’”

In her spare time, Janke does a lot of reading, gardening and yard work. She likes reading mystery novels and serial books. Her garden is filled with perennials and raspberries. She likes doing yard work because her kids can play outside while she works.

“Every day is different,” Janke said. “I use all my skills. I am challenged to use them in new ways for every project and every classroom … I love where I am at.”


Assistant Professor and Undergraduate Program Adviser for Art Therapy

A neighbor is for borrowing a cup of sugar. A neighbor is for letting your dog outside when you are on vacation. A neighbor is for teaching you painting.

Melody Todd grew up making art with her mother’s encouragement. Her mother signed her up for a watercolor class with a neighbor who was an artist.

 “We worked in the summer, and she just had a beautiful garden of hollyhocks,” Todd said. “We were watercolor painting hollyhocks. She was this very passionate, robust woman that was an inspiration to me. I loved how she felt so excited about life.”

 Todd attended a college prep high school where due to her rigorous course load, she was unable to take an art class until her senior year. In college, she double majored in psychology and art, the foundation for art therapy. She chose to pursue art therapy because it was the perfect blend of her love of art and people.

  “Particularly in art therapy, I really love paying attention to the process of art making,”  Todd said. “Art for me has been a way to understand myself and the world.”

After graduation, she worked in a psychiatric facility as an occupational therapy assistant in the adolescent department and an art therapist in the inpatient child psychiatric unit. During her time there, she also earned her master’s degree in art therapy. 

Nine years later, she opened her own consulting practice and eventually become an instructor for an introduction to art therapy class at Mount Mary. One year later, she became a full-time art therapy professor.

 “It’s been a really rich opportunity to bring compassion and creativity and the love of community and women’s issues all together,” Todd said. “I don’t know if I would have been as happy teaching anywhere else as I am at Mount Mary because of those opportunities to follow my heart.”

Todd also expresses herself creatively by writing free verse poetry and prayers.

 “I do really like working with intention, to start out with an idea of something that I want to bring into the experience of making art and then respond to the art through poetry,” Todd said.

 Growing up with a foundation in the Catholic faith, Todd has always been fond of the rituals, such as burning incense and taking part in mass. She has always wanted to follow the Christian values of being kind and open. These interests have influenced her approach to art therapy and teaching.

“When you are setting the stage for doing a group, you are creating a sacred, safe space,” Todd said. “There are certain routines around what you do that help people settle in and feel open to expressing themselves. Those aspects sort of set the stage for my spiritual focus here in my teaching.”

In her free time, Todd enjoys spending time with her family, working in her garden and reading. Her garden is mostly made up of perennials, but also includes a small tomato plant and rainbow chard. Her favorite things to read are historically or culturally-based fiction and nonfiction about spiritual enrichment and the science behind the larger connection.

Todd enjoys working with art that has the ability to create itself. Just as art can take its own direction, students also have the ability to create themselves.

“I love the ripple effect of students bringing their creativity and compassion and their ability to collaborate out into the world,” Todd said. “I feel that is a valuable contribution.”


Assistant Professor of Art

When Deb Heermans was little, she played with a dollhouse made out of cardboard boxes that she had made with her grandmother. Due to her father’s early death, Heermans spent time with her grandmother while her mother worked. 

“I was very shy as a child,” Heermans said. “Art became my voice, which had a lot to do with how art was introduced to me, not from an academic structure. In schools, you have to do it the right way. My grandma showed me you can do it a hundred different ways … She wasn’t an art teacher, but she loved art.”

Her grandmother taught her that play in art is important. Play in art means being open and experimental in the approach to art making. Heermans still uses the concept of play in her personal approach to art making and also incorporates it into all of her classes. 

“Where I learned to play from my grandmother, my teachers at Mount Mary taught me how to see,” Heermans said. “My very first class was a design class with Sister Remy. She (printed) all the silk screening pieces that are around campus … Her approach was really to open our eyes to look at things from a different perspective.”

 When Heermans was a child, her mother would bring home slides and little test tubes from her job as a lab tech.  Heermans would play “medicine,” imagining a future working in the field. After fainting twice at the sight of blood, she changed her mind. This led her to pursue art therapy because it was a bridge between her interest in medicine and her love of art.

 Heermans began her undergraduate career at Mount Mary as an art therapy and art education major. She had always had an interest in teaching, but it was the teachers at Mount Mary that really inspired her to become a teacher.

 “I had teachers that you could just tell they loved doing what they wanted to do,” Heermans said. “That was not teaching something. It was helping the students to find their passion with the art.”

 For 23 years, Heermans worked at Wisconsin Lutheran College. During her time there, she taught classes, built the art program into a major, chaired the department, saw the creation of an art building, started an art guild and served as the gallery director.

 “I never expected to be a gallery director, but I found it was another way to share art,” Heermans said. “If there is one goal that I have as an artist, as a teacher, as a mother, is to show the value of art in our lives. Not art as a means of making things, but art as a means of connecting, discovering, playing, problem solving.”

 Heermans started at Mount Mary as the director of the summer program for kids called Creative Connections. She then became an art instructor and four years later, became the chair of the art department and a full-time professor.

 “I feel so blessed to have been given this opportunity to come back to the place that was really the starting point to my career,” Heermans said. “When I first started here, I was working with a few of my teachers. They were my colleagues. To be working with those people again on this level as a professor, instructor meant a lot to me because they taught me so much.”

 Heermans continues to makes her own art. When she went back for her master’s degree in art, she immersed herself in printmaking. Now, she has transitioned from printmaking to paper making.

 “I’m a very tactile person,” Heermans said. “What I like about that (paper making) is it’s painterly. You can sculpt it like clay. You can use mixed media, which I absolutely love. It addresses all my little passions in art making. There’s no one way of doing it.”

 In high school, Heermans was in the jazz band and the marching band. She played the clarinet and saxophone. For a little while after high school, she played the clarinet in a community group. Today, she no longer plays, but enjoys listening to jazz and starts her classes off with music.

 “It sets the tone and the mood for the day,” Heermans said. “Art sets that tone and mood in aesthetic, in a building, in the clothes you wear. That’s why I feel they’re both so important for everyone. It’s another way to communicate.”

 In her free time, Heermans enjoys spending time with her family and camping. Her favorite place to camp is Madeline Island in Lake Superior, which she described as similar to Hawaii but closer. While there, she likes to draw.

 “Each part of my path in art has been different and new, even though it’s all connected,” Heermans said. “There was always something a little different. And that kept me current. It kept me vital. It kept me passionate about it rather than being stagnant and going one direction.”

Adjunct Graphic Design Instructor

Sue Schroeder flunked her sixth grade art class.

 “I was always in the art room,” Schroeder said. “It was probably the first thing people noticed about me from an academic standpoint. So even though I flunked that one class, I went on to win some scholarships. It was the first thing that people gave me credit for and paid attention to.”

 Schroeder never felt like she could be a professional artist because she needed to earn a degree. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in psychology and then attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison for a master’s degree in visual communications. 

Later, she moved to Florida and began working for a company called Nutmeg Mills, a screen printing company that specialized in printing for athletes.

 “Oddly enough, that one job choice really colored my next several job choices,” Schroeder said “So once I was in screen printing and doing design work for screen printing, my next job went into doing graphics for Harley Davidson. Then doing graphic for large liquor companies.”

 Schroeder is constantly learning. If there is something within the field that she does not know, she is eager to read more about it, try it out and see what it is like.

 “I think a lot of what we do from the standpoint of art or graphics is experience-based,” Schroeder said. “Most people can leave their jobs, and they just leave their jobs. I am submerged.”

When she was working in a screen printing and promotions company and felt she needed more website knowledge, she decided to go back to school. Instead of pursuing another degree, she applied to be an instructor at the Waukesha County Technical College. 

“I like everything about teaching adults,” Schroeder said. “The best thing about teaching adults is they are in a class because they want to be, usually. I prefer to have people in my classes because they have an interest in what I am teaching than people who are in my classes because they have to be.”

Her interest in teaching led Schroeder to pursue a master’s degree in education at Alverno College. While she was finishing her degree, Mount Mary had a position open up for a graphic design instructor.

“At the time I started at Mount Mary in the graphics program, there was a real positivity, a real push forward,” Schroeder said. “They were getting new computers. They were readjusting their curriculum. It was all going in the direction of growth and being positive and learning-forward.”

Schroeder spends more of her free time making art than creating designs. She does create designs for Red Bubble, a website where artists can sell their designs on t-shirts, mugs, phone cases and many other promotional products.

“In the winter, I get more into textiles and knitting and things like that,” Schroeder said. “In the summer, I tend to do more glasswork or beading. I like to paint. I redo furniture.”

Schroeder used to think that art and graphic design were not connected because graphic design was about putting a message or a product out. Through her years of experience, she has learned that the traditional art approach actually helps in putting out the message or product.

“I blur the lines a lot between visual communications and art and graphics,” Schroeder said. “I like there to be attractiveness or some sense of art to graphic design.” 


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