Mount Mary morphs to creative campus


Photo by DENISE SEYFER
Signed guitars will be raffled off, proceeds go to Guitars for Vets which teaches lessons and provides free guitars to veterans.

By DENISE SEYFER

As Mount Mary College changes to a university in 2013, the campus will also take steps to distinguish itself as a “creative campus.”

Dr. Eileen Schwalbach, president of Mount Mary, sees the need for creative thinking throughout the entire curriculum. According to Schwalbach, she and a group of faculty members are working toward distinguishing Mount Mary and its graduates as leaders through the Creative Campus Initiative.

Cooperatively, the administration, faculty and student body will aid in the process to define what creative campus means for Mount Mary.

“We’ll be going to the students with a plan and asking them, ‘What do you think about this? What are we missing? What do you need and see in terms of your future?’” Schwalbach said.

The administration hopes there will be enough commonalities between the faculty’s and the student body’s opinions about how the creative campus should evolve, which could result in new curriculum implementation and new student achievements.With respect to the differences in visions for the creative campus, the administration’s goal will be to synthesize the suggestions and attempt to fill in the gaps.

According to Schwalbach, Mount Mary’s definition of “creative campus” should include some guidance to aid faculty in implementing the creative campus idea into their curriculum. Lessons and strategies should promote divergent thinking, which means devising unusual or non-stereotypical solutions to a problem. Mount Mary graduates must be able to distinguish themselves as possessing this highly specialized skill.

Students should learn how to use creativity in foreseeing and communicating new solutions before problems arise, verses reacting and solving the problems once they have occurred. Creativity should not be limited to the liberal and fine arts. All disciplines, whether it be the sciences, business or education, have opportunities to embed some form of creativity within their curricula.

“It’s really about how you [faculty and students] can infuse the teaching of these skills throughout the curriculum,” Schwalbach said.

Adopting these changes will take time. Some key components are already in practice at Mount Mary. One way the creative campus model is being implemented is in Mount Mary’s art department. Staff and students show leadership by teaching an art program twice a month to home-schooled children. The art therapy program services the community by providing therapy to veterans at the VA Veterans Hospital in Milwaukee, helping soldiers who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder express their struggles through music.

The hope is to formulate a plan for what the creative campus will constitute and start laying the groundwork next fall. The final transformation, taken in stages, may require an additional two to five years.

“I have some urgency, but I don’t want to set a timeline that’s unrealistic,” Schwalbach said. “I want to give people time to really think about this and live with it so we can come up with a really good plan.”

Implementing a creative campus at Mount Mary will have its challenges. These changes cannot be confined to curriculum only. Teaching ideologies will also have to make a dramatic shift.

“Teaching really needs to be reconfigured,” said Dr. Bruce Moon, chair and art therapy department director. “Ultimately as a creative process … I’m less interested in transmitting a body of knowledge [to students] versus immersing them in knowledge where they can ask their own questions and seek the answers that they need.”

A key component of the Creative Campus Initiative is the need for curriculum to be more student-centered. According to Schwalbach, curriculum should be centered and taught around the needs of the students and focus on mastering specific skills students need to achieve, verses just teaching a generic teacher-motivated curriculum with little student input and participation.

According to Moon, leadership, calculated risk-taking and creative thinking skills should be taught through classroom exercises, internships and community involvement opportunities.

“How does the faculty make it safe in the classroom [for students] to take risks and fail without sacrificing their grade? That’s going to be a challenge,” Schwalbach said.

These challenges are being embraced by the administration as an opportunity to create a dialogue among faculty members and the student body.

“Bringing a creative campus to Mount Mary can be more unifying in that students and faculty in different disciplines will be more connected,” said Anne Koenings, a graduate student in English.

According to Schwalbach, this initiative is essential in how Mount Mary will prepare future leaders. When considering current social problems, she wants Mount Mary to be effective in training its students to find a new way of doing things.

“We [Mount Mary advocates for the creative campus] want to inspire teachers of all disciplines to rethink how they teach and infuse creativity within their curriculum,” Moon said. “We want students to come up with new questions and new solutions to help solve the world’s problems.”

Community involvement and partnerships with local businesses are key factors to the success of Mount Mary’s evolution as a creative campus. Mount Mary already supports and is a member of The Creative Alliance Milwaukee, which is compromised of local businesses, art programs and schools.

“There is a growing market for creative approaches and leadership,” Schwalbach said. “Businesses are turning to Mount Mary to influence the region in terms of creativity.”

A study by the Americans for the Arts and Creative Alliance Milwaukee, which was released in June of 2012, reported nonprofit arts and cultural organizations had a $30 million economic impact in the Milwaukee area from 2005 to 2010. These businesses are ready and willing to adapt to the changing economic environment, and they need Mount Mary graduates to step up to meet this increasing need.

According to Moon, businesses should see Mount Mary as a place to find employees with the skills to fill the specialized openings within their companies.

“What we want to do is position Mount Mary as a leader in these disciplines,” Moon said.

 

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