Tell us a little bit about what you were doing before you came to Columbia.
I graduated from Kent State University in 2006 with a B.A. in Theatre Studies and no real plan for how to use my degree. Straight away I decided to move to Chicago to see where the city could take me. I knew that I wanted to get involved with theatre, but I also had developed a recent interest in education. I started as a member of Team Shakespeare at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, which included greeting and seating over 50,000 students who were on field trips to the Navy Pier. I could see a lot of value in the programming that the education department was creating for CPS students and ended up freelancing for them on special projects. I was good at the administrative work, but it was working with the teachers that specifically captured my eye.
I was first able to develop my teaching career when I became an Assistant Teaching Artist for Columbia College’s Center for Community Arts Partnership. The class I started in was drama, but I could see the potential for interweaving puppets and storytelling into a new class. As a Teaching Artist, I was able to cultivate my own plan for the classroom and see it through to fruition. It quite suddenly seemed very clear to me that teaching was the reason I had ended up in Chicago. Currently, I coordinate and perform educational puppet shows for Open Books, a not-for-profit literacy center.
Going into my first year of graduate school, I am hopeful that I can utilize my background as an educator and an administrator to the fullest advantage. I am also quite sure that this unique blend will make my future classroom a space full of adventure, growth, and imagination.
Why did you choose Columbia for your graduate study?
I suspect that Columbia College Chicago and I were always meant for each other. My best friend in high school went here for his undergraduate degree in Theatre, so I knew of it before I had ever stepped foot in Chicago. When I graduated from college and headed here to find a career, the first people I met in my field were either currently studying at or graduates of Columbia. Everyone had very positive stories to share of projects they were excited about, faculty that had inspired them, and of going to school in the “loop.” I saw a colleague’s Directing II production and was stunned by the professionalism.
As I began to gravitate towards teaching, I learned more about the Elementary Education program at Columbia. The curriculum seemed a perfect fit for my interests—urban minded and arts integrated by its very nature. I looked at other schools in the city and in other states, but all of them had one thing or another that just didn’t fit my interests as a learner. I was also very impressed with how truthful and detailed the answers were to each of my inquires about the department.
I think when I knew for sure that I wanted to study at Columbia was when the acceptance letter welcomed me into their “community of artists.” There is a part of me that will always be an artist, so it felt very right to me that the school not only knew that side of me, but knew it would be an integral part of my learning process. I’m very excited for that process to begin!
Tell us about a project you’re working on that you’re excited about.
This summer I was fortunate enough to teach for Playhouse Del Sol, an after-school learning program. I quickly learned that the most exciting aspect of creating a six week curriculum is determining how to make what the students are learning both in-depth and easily accessible. As we progressed through the curriculum, I found that my students were quite taken with very particular elements of my lesson plan; specifically a very modern version of Indonesian shadow puppets and the idea of “dancing with light.”
The curriculum I built slowly began to change. I would bring in wide varieties of music, hand out flashlights, and we would discover how different dance styles looked when we reflected our shadows across the walls, floors, ceilings, and even across each other’s faces. I started to shift our culminating project to reflect what they were learning. We listened to the song “All is Love,” by Karen O and the Kids, and discussed what the song made us see. The students decided that the song represented nature, community, and “all of the love in their hearts.” We began to build puppets that reflected those things—baby birds in a nest, a chain of animals chasing each other, a brother and sister holding hands. The students sat on the floor, diligently focused on cutting out precise shapes from cardboard.
We found the form the show needed to take slowly and carefully. When the final performance came for their parents, the students walked on to the stage proudly, arms full of cardboard cutouts and huge smiles on their faces. By the end of summer, I had a classroom of students who had taken a curriculum and breathed more life into it than I had ever imagined. It was the best experience of my teaching career to date.