2017 Emerging Creatives Student Summit
This year’s theme is WATER: New Directions Through Arts and Science. No community on this planet is without it’s water-based challenges. Water-centric grand challenges* are many, ranging from access and social justice issues in local and global contexts, to environmental degradation, to toxicological challenges, to saltwater incursion into freshwater, to sea level rise. Uniquely situated less than two hours from the Gulf Coast and from the Atlantic Ocean in an area known for its numerous freshwater springs, the University of Florida has great strength in local, regional, national, and international research and creative activity when it comes to these and other water-centric grand challenges.
This summit will feature panels and working group leadership from distinguished professor in the life sciences and the arts at the University of Florida, as well as leading artists and water scholars from around the country. Join us this coming February 8-11 to advance your own creative work or research through interdisciplinary collaboration with your peers at leading institutions across the U.S. Undergraduate and graduate students in any and all fields are welcome, particularly those that care about and have a deep interest in water and the environment. We especially encourage student research teams from biology, ecology, and related fields, as well as artists/designers, to apply.
About Emerging Creatives
The Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities (a2ru) Emerging Creatives Student Summits bring together students who have an interest in the arts, crossing disciplinary boundaries, and developing collaborative projects. Each year, 80-100 undergraduate and graduate students attend the summit from a2ru partner universities across the country, along with 12-15 administrators, faculty, and staff. These summits have a strong project-based component with activities such as panel discussions with special guests, keynote speakers, site visits or field trips, performances and exhibitions, networking opportunities, and “bootcamp” or skill-building experiences built in throughout to collaboratively tackle and solve grand challenges*.
*Grand challenges are ambitious but achievable goals that harness science, technology, and innovation to solve important national or global problems and that have the potential to capture the public’s imagination.
Anurag Mantha is a PhD student in the Charles E. Via Jr. Department of Civil and EnvironmentalEngineering at Virginia Tech. Anurag has a Bachelor of Technology in Civil Engineering from GITAMUniversity, India and a Master of Science in Environmental Engineering from Virginia Tech. His research interests lie in the field of drinking water. He has research experience in drinking water treatment and his master’s research was related to treating hexavalent chromium from drinking water.As part of his PhD, he is studying water infrastructure in the built environment, with a focus on hot water systems and premise plumbing and trying to optimize systems for energy performance in tandem with protecting public health.
He has been a part of the Flint Water Study team since its inception in August 2015 and has been involved with all aspects of the research group’s efforts in Flint. Outside of the department, Anurag is the president of the Indian Students Association and works as an investigator for the Graduate HonorSystem at Virginia Tech.
Chris is a PhD student in the Biology Department at the University of Florida, in the Kawahara Lab of the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the Florida Museum of Natural History. His current research focuses on Philodoria, a group of rare, endangered micromoths only known from the rainforests of the Hawaiian Islands.
Beyond Chris’ work with Philodoria, his passions lie in wildlife photography, documentary videography, and graphic design – all tools that he uses to communicate unique and engaging media featuring the world’s imperiled tropical ecosystems and those working to save them. As a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow and National Geographic Explorer, Chris strives to raise awareness about lesser-known taxa through a diverse array of conservation science multimedia.
Dylan Klempner began interning for Arts in Medicine in 2010. A year later, he became an artist in residence serving primarily adults. A writer and interdisciplinary artist, Dylan uses a variety of media in his work with patients, caregivers, and staff.
In 2011, Dylan rolled out The Mobile Inspiration Station, a cart filled with art supplies–paint, small canvases, journals, pens, pencils, drawing paper, puzzles and games. He wheels these materials through the hospital, room-to-room, encouraging patients and their caregivers to take part in an activity. Dylan also offers writing workshops at Shands using the method taught by Amherst Writer’s and Artists.
In addition to his work in the hospital, Dylan writes for publication about the importance of art and creativity in everyday life. He has an MFA in Interdisciplinary Art from Goddard College, a BS in Entrepreneurial Studies from Babson College, and an MFA in creative nonfiction at Goucher College. His articles have appeared in a variety of magazines and newspapers across America, and he credits the literary e-zine, BraidedBrook.com with Russ Beck.
Oxford University, NATO Post-Doctoral Fellowship, 1985
Cornell University, Ph.D., 1982, Dissertation: Natural history of lianas and their influences on tropical forest dynamics
University of Wisconsin, B.S. (Education/Biology), 1973
RECENT ACADEMIC AND RESEARCH POSITIONS
Professor, Department of Biology, University of Florida, 1992-present (Associate Professor 1987-1992; Assistant Professor 1982-1987)
Affiliate Faculty: School of Forest Resources and Conservation (SFRC): School of Natural Resources and the Environment (SNRE); Center for Latin American Studies; Center for African Studies
Senior Research Associate, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)
AREAS OF INTEREST/RESEARCH
Conservation Biology, Tropical Forestry, Fire Ecology, Restoration Ecology, Economic Botany, Natural Resource Economics, Plant Ecology, Botany, Plant Biomechanics
Jamie has very broad research interests that span the subdisciplines of physiological ecology, community ecology, and macroecology and evolution. He is interested in how physical constraints on the survival, growth and reproduction of individuals influence the ecology and evolution of communities and ecosystems. Most recently, he has been working to develop the metabolic theory of ecology dealing explicitly with the effects of body size, temperature and stoichiometry on ecological and evolutionary rate processes. In the coming years, he hopes to further develop these ideas using theoretical, experimental and field approaches.
Hein, AM, Hou C, and JF Gillooly (2012) Energetic and biomechanical constraints on animal migration distance. Ecology Letters 15:104-110.
Hou, C, Kaspari M, Vander Zanden HB, and JF Gillooly (2010) Energetic basis of colonial living in social insects. PNAS 107(8):3634-8.
Gillooly, JF and AG Ophir (2010) The energetic basis of acoustic communication. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 277:1325-1331
Gillooly, JF, Allen, AP, Brown, JH, and GB. West (2005) The rate of DNA evolution: Effects of body size and temperature on the molecular clock. PNAS 102:140-145.
Brown, JH, Gillooly, JF, Allen, AP, Savage, VM, and GB West (2004) Toward a metabolic theory of ecology. Ecology 85:1771-1789.
Allen, AP, Brown, JH, and JF Gillooly (2002) Global biodiversity, biochemical kinetics, and the energetic-equivalence rule. Science 297:1545-1548
Gillooly, JF, Charnov, EL, West, GB, Savage, VM and JH Brown (2002) Effects of size and temperature on developmental time. Nature 417:70-73.
Gillooly, JF, Brown, JH, West, GB, Savage, VM, and EL Charnov (2001) Effects of size and temperature on metabolic rate. Science 293:2248-2251
Janet Biggs is an American artist, known primarily for her work in video, photography, and performance. She lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Biggs’ work often includes images of individuals in extreme landscapes or situations. She has captured such events as speeding motorcycles on the Bonneville Salt Flats, Olympic synchronized swimmers in their attempts to defy gravity, kayaks performing a synchronized ballet in Arctic waters, sulfur miners inside an active volcano, and a camel caravan crossing the Taklamakan desert of Western China. Her earlier work dealt with issues of psychosis and psychotropic drugs. Her latest project explores the creation and loss of memory from personal, physical, and scientific perspectives. In addition to videos, her recent work includes multi-discipline performances, often including multiple large-scale videos, live musicians, and athletes. Biggs received her undergraduate degree from Moore College of Art and pursued graduate studies at Rhode Island School of Design.
Her work has been featured in the first International Biennial of Contemporary Art of Cartagena, Colombia; the Musée d’art contemporain de Lyon, France; Vantaa ArtMuseum, Finland; Linkopings Konsthall, Passagen, Sweden; the OberosterreichischesLandesmuseum, Austria; Kunstmuseum Bonn, Germany; Museo d’arte contemporanea Roma, Italy; and the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taiwan.
Reviews of her work have appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, ArtForum, ARTNews, Art in America, Flash Art, Artnet.com, and many others. Biggs is the recipient of numerous grants including the Electronic Media and Film Program at the New York State Council on the Arts Award, the Arctic Circle Fellowship/Residency, the Anonymous Was a Woman Award, and the NEA Fellowship Award.
Her work is in collections including Fonds Regional d’Art Contemporain (FRAC), Languedoc-Roussillon, France; the Zabludowicz Collection, London; Skulpturenmuseum Glaskasten Marl (Ruhr Kunst Museen), Marl, German; the Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa, FL; the High Museum, Atlanta, GA; the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, NC; the Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, NC; and the New Britain Museum of Art, New Britain, Connecticut.
Laura Chessin is a graphic designer, artist, and videographer whose current body of work includes both documentary and expressive film exploring ecological issues and her personal relationship to the natural world. She is especially interested in how artists and designers can bring expressive and innovative ways to address issues associated with the Anthropocene, and to explore their own relationships with the natural world as both a foreign or familiar place.
Margaret Ross Tolbert is an artist based in Gainesville, Florida. Over the last twenty years she has executed series of paintings, drawings and lithographs from studios in the U.S., France, and Turkey. Her commissions include projects for series of paintings with residencies in Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Oman, enabling her to continue her research for her series, Doors, and study of language and dance from the regions of the ancient trade routes. Another continuing focus is the Springs of North Florida, whose paradisiacal presence provides a sense of ideal destination and the exotic in the here- and-now that counterpoints the sense of passage, time and journey implicit in the Door paintings.
Recent exhibitions have included dance performances and animations presenting the energy of the creative act of painting, ethnic dance, and exploration of the springs and the creative process. These include ENERGY performances for Shands Arts in Medicine, Edsvik Konsthall, and Marten Pers Skalla in Sweden, and Festival of the Moving Image in Tampa.
In 2010, the book AQUIFERious was released, with art and writing by Tolbert with thirteen contributors. This amalgam of scientific insights woven into a catalog of Tolbert’s painting, writing, and performance about the springs, documents some of the many features, and urgent need for the preservation of Florida’s freshwater springs and the Floridan Aquifer. AQUIFERious received a gold medal in Florida non-fiction and a silver medal in fine arts from the Florida Book Awards. The book GEZI, with Tolbert’s narrative and sketches of travels in Eastern Turkey was released in 2006.
Tolbert is working toward a film on Springs in Turkey; an installation of hundreds of sketches for the Raffles Hotel, opening in Istanbul in 2013; and new springs paintings for a September exhibit at the Appleton Museum in Ocala. A group exhibit including her work at the American Embassy Residence in Ankara continues through 2012.
Tolbert received her BFA and MFA in painting from the University of Florida, where she studied under Hiram Williams. She also minored in Linguistics.
Nan Smith is known for her contemplative installations and figure sculptures, which synthesize sculpture -often life-size figures–with digital photomontages. Over the years, she has explored social narratives that reflect her interest in spirituality, nostalgia, and most recently, environmental issues.
Nan received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Tyler School of Art in 1974 and a Master of Fine Arts from The Ohio State University in 1977. She holds degrees in Ikebana and Japanese Tea Ceremony from the Japan House at the University of Illinois. Nan Smith’s installations and sculpture have been exhibited at SOFA Chicago, The American Museum of Ceramic Art in California, The Kentucky Museum of Arts and Crafts, The Appleton Museum of Art and in invitational exhibitions throughout the United States. Nan’s work is also part of many institutional collections, including The American Express Corporation; The Lamar Dodd Art Center; The Givat Haviva Institute’s Art Center in Israel; and the World Ceramics Exposition Korea International Collection in Ichon, Korea. She has been the recipient of four State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship Grants, an NEA-funded Southern Arts Federation Fellowship in Sculpture, and a University of Florida Research Foundation Professorship. She has been awarded funded residencies by the Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts, and The Association of Israel’s Decorative Arts. Her sculpture has been presented in book chapters in: “The Figure in Clay” (Lark, 2005) and “World Famous Ceramic Artists Studios” (Hebei Fine Ats Publishing House, China, 2004); plus in feature articles in Ceramics Monthly, Ceramics: Art and Perception, Sculpture, World Sculpture News, China Ceramic Artist magazines.
Nan Smith served as the co-juror for the 2006 NCECA Regional Student Juried Exhibition in Portland, Oregon, and for Alchemy: from Dust to Form, The Ceramics National presented by the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art in 2011. She has curated three CIE exhibitions for the National Council for Education in Ceramics Conferences. Smith was honored by the National Council for Education in the Ceramic Arts, NCECA as an Emerging Talent, in 1986.
Nan Smith has presented workshops on figure sculpting and mold-making throughout the United States, including the 1999 National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts Conference. Nan Smith lives in Gainesville, Florida where she maintains her private studio and holds the position of tenured Full Professor within the Ceramics Program at the University of Florida’s School of Art and Art History.
Robert Davies is a physicist and educator whose work focuses on synthesizing a broad range of Earth Systems science through a lens of human systems sustainability and planetary boundaries. Over the past decade Dr. Davies has developed and delivered hundreds of public lectures on climate change and human sustainability. He is also co-creator of The Crossroads Project, a communication project weaving together science, imagery and music, bringing to bear the power of performance art on the topic of human sustainability.
Dr. Davies is an Associate of the Utah Climate Center and adjunct professor in Utah State University’s Department of Plants, Soils and Climate. He has taught on the faculty of three universities; worked as project scientist for Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory; as technical liaison for NASA’s International Space Station project; and served as an officer and meteorologist in the United States Air Force.
Terry Harpold is Associate Professor of English, Film, and Media Studies at the University of Florida. His research and teaching interests include science fiction and film, climate fiction and film, digital humanities, image-text studies, and psychoanalysis. He is a member of UF’s Digital Humanities Working Group, co-founder of the Science Fiction Working Group, and founder of UF’s “Imagining Climate Change” initiative, which brings together scientists, humanists, artists, and the public to imagine our collective futures in an age of global climate instability.
Wendy D. Graham is the Carl S. Swisher Eminent Scholar in Water Resources in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at the University ofFlorida and Director of the University of Florida Water Institute. She graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor’s degree in EnvironmentalEngineering. Her PhD is in Civil Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute ofTechnology. She conducts research in the areas of coupled hydrologic-water quality-ecosystem modeling; water resources evaluation and remediation; evaluation of impacts of agricultural production on surface and ground water quality; and development of hydrologic indicators of ecosystem status. She has served as PI or co-PI on over $17 million in grants and contracts, has supervised 30 doctoral and master’s thesis committees and has served on an additional 45 graduate student committees.
In the Press
a2ru brings science and creativity together at the University of Florida
By Casey Wooster
Over 120 university students and faculty members from across the country congregated together at the University of Florida College of the Arts for the 2017 Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities (a2ru) Emerging Creatives Student Summit. This year’s summit took place between February 8 and February 11 and focused around the theme of WATER: New Directions Through Arts and Sciences.
Being situated less than two hours from the Gulf Coast and Atlantic Ocean as well as numerous freshwater springs, the University of Florida offered a unique setting for this year’s summit. UF professors in the life sciences and arts partnered with water scholars and artists from around the country to collaborate with university students in panel discussions, group projects and field trips centered on issues and problems related to water.
“I would have never come to Gainesville and see all of this amazing stuff if I hadn’t been accepted,” said Tess Torregrosa, a doctoral candidate in chemical engineering at Northeastern University, as she learned about Florida’s aquifer system during a field trip to Gainesville’s Sweetwater Wetlands Park.
Student and Faculty Testimonials
For a brief few days at the recent a2ru Emerging Creatives conference in Gainesville, I was able to participate in a perfect example of interdisciplinary design process at work. Throughout the course of the conference boundaries between faculty and students dissolved, opening up space for some profound exchanges of ideas and experiences. I found myself to be both witness and participant during the course of planning sessions, as teams grappled with complex problems and explored possible solutions.
Through unplanned lunch conversations, walks across campus to the library, breaks in the sun on the patio outside the gallery, the bus ride out to Sweetwater Wetlands, observations on the boardwalk as Coots and Gallinules paddled by… This is where we became both teachers and learners. We shared experiences, thoughts, and questions. What we all had in common was a love of the natural world and a desire to find some way to make meaningful work—whether as artist or designer, natural or social scientist— and a passion to share information and explore innovative and creative approaches to understanding critical ecological issues.
From my viewpoint as a designer, the power of this type of teamwork is less the actual solutions (although many of these were wonderfully inventive and intriguing) and more the process. I was one of the faculty at large circulating around the library dropping in on group sessions. As an observer, I saw my role change with each group dynamic. One group had hit the ground running and, while working through a technical issue, generously shared their process but clearly needed no outside intervention. Another group when asked how they were doing, shared that they felt they had reached a standstill. I thought they were getting lost considering possibilities for a public awareness activity without a focus and helped them break down the larger issue of water conservation into smaller problems to address. We talked about the importance of empathy as a way to connect with an audience, giving them a tool to move forward. Another group was making beautiful objects, but hadn’t fully addressed how to engage an audience. A simple question open this up for discussion.
All were playing some role in the design process: breaking down large complex issues into smaller problems. We often launch into a solution without taking time to ask enough questions to better understand a problem: why is this important? how does it function? how does it connect? what do we want our audience to do? Act? Think? Both? Good design process is asking good questions, and then doing good research. There are no “right” or “best” questions just as there is normally not a single solution to a problem. In Gainesville we saw a perfect example of how each team, with a unique mix of experiences and areas of strength, had a unique way to address a very complicated problem of over-consumption and poor management of limited water resources. It requires multiple approaches and solutions to tackle such a large problem. What we saw at the Emerging Creatives Student Summit was a demonstration of how the solutions may be as varied as the possible make ups of teams working to find a solution.
Growing up in a scientific and artistic family, I’ve always had an interest in the hybridity of the two. My Dad taught my brother and I biology, ecology, and systems-thinking regarding the Earth’s ecosystems, where my Mom taught us the discipline and patience to learn music. a2ru encapsulates these pursuits, and the emerging creatives summit allowed for further like-minded collaboration between other young professionals and university faculty to meet, discuss, and learn about the power this hybridity offers towards creative solutions around the world’s most pressing issue: water.
Having a chance to be ourselves at the summit was my favorite part. People are more engaged when they have the opportunity to express who they are from their own perspective and working towards a common goal without instructions to prime a particular direction really allowed our creativity to really flourish. This creative drive only grew through participating groups’ arts/sciences approach, providing evidence-based products of very real solutions to water-related issues. Education for communities young and old – one example included a game to educate families where participants build a pizza and learn the expenditure of water at every level (pepperoni pizza costs around $70 to make!) – was the predominant approach, with fun and easy to explain ideas highlighting the summit.
The diversity present within our (and every) group at the summit further exemplified both the freedom to create solutions and desire to share in common passion for arts/science collaborative development. Climate change issues also contributed to the summit, with narrative design and emotional connection through music to overarching issues providing similar drive to create solutions as water issues alone. Emerging creatives at the summit really got their hands dirty through interactive project development of their own doing, and I think that engaged students at a level far greater than panel discussions and lunch/dinner conversation alone.
One last thought to share, STEAM education is essential. No matter the cost, we must continue to push for the humanizing effects offered through arts education opportunities not present in the other contributing fields to the same extent. Emotions are stimulated via the arts, yielding personal connection to a cause, be it water, food shortage/obesity, literacy/illiteracy, smoking/health, sex education, cultural sensitivity or otherwise. Emotions are an essential part of communicating messages that elicit meaningful response, and the hybridity of the arts and sciences via a2ru initiatives like the Emerging Creatives Summit offer participants the chance to collaboratively get dirty and produce personally impassioned solutions to life’s pressing issues.
Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect going into the a2ru Summit. I was asked if I wanted to go about four days before the deadline, I thought “why would I pass up a sponsored, interesting-sounding, educational opportunity?” and quickly responded “Yes!”. I couldn’t be happier that I decided to go.
a2ru 2017 Emerging Creatives Student Summit was a phenomenal experience. It was interesting talking to students from other schools and seeing the diverse skill sets, interests, and backgrounds brought together by this event. I think we were all blown away by how quickly we collaborated and created big, bold, and yet, simple solutions to a very broad, important topic, like water conservation.
On the second day, it was awesome being able to go to the Sweetland Water Park and see a working solution in action. Here, we got to experience land and water preservation and see people restoring an ecosystem. This field trip helped us see how our solutions really are potential realities; it’s just a matter of building connections and acting on the idea. I think a2ru makes it clear that they want to support projects in becoming solutions by offering opportunities like this.
I hope to be a part of future initiatives like a2ru and can see many great solutions coming out of opportunities like this. It is by putting diverse, intelligent and creative minds together that the most impactful solutions are attained. a2ru and ArtsEngine are pushing students to positively change our future in big ways and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of one of their summits.
After arriving fashionably late and slightly disoriented after a long drive to Gainesville from Athens, GA, our University of Georgia crew arrived at our final destination on the massive University of Florida campus. I was not used to being in a room full of artists and scientists together, and the synergy of all of these great minds together hit me immediately after surveying the room as I hurried to sign in and quietly take my seat. Struggling for a few moments to get my mind focused again, I realized that the first speaker was talking about climate change and big picture water issues, and this was a time and place where we would be facing these challenges head-on. The salient timing of this conference was clearly evident, seeing as many parts of the country are struggling with drought, water quality threats, and conflicts over water supply. Of course, there is a measure of complexity and enormity to these issues, but the creativity and willpower that was present and in good supply, helped ease any nerves throughout the week.
My project group comprised students from a diverse geographic background that included Florida, Virginia, Nebraska, Missouri, and Georgia. We exchanged anecdotes and issues about our local water, and they differed from place to place. This led to eye-opening discussions on our perspectives on water because though we all relied on water, we derived them from different sources, from rivers to aquifers. We realized just how interconnected we were when we related culture to water consumption, and specifically at the industries that took a big toll on water quality and supply in our area. Our project theme was not about the responsibility of corporations for water conservation, however, but about our personal responsibility for water. Interestingly, the two dovetailed into a discussion about water consumption in the sports sectors of our college campuses, especially football, and how the public had a role to play in that. Being at an SEC school, it seemed fitting to address this elephant in the room that consumes a large amount of energy and contributes to water pollution and consumption. The large influx of people into college towns can seem unsustainable and too large to tackle, but we saw it as an opportunity for outreach on water conservation. We had the idea of creating a tailgate station that would have games, foods, and educational elements about water. For instance, we designed games to teach people about water use of common at tailgate foods and created a concept for an artistic structure that demonstrated water filtration while highlighting the impacts of trash that litters the local watershed after football games. The collaborative process was enjoyable and inspiring, and I hope collaborative initiatives such as a2ru can lead us to a happier present and more sustainable future.
As a musician, while performing in a concert hall for an audience in and of itself can be a beautiful, meaningful experience, the experiences I have found to be most meaningful as an artist are the ones where I am placed directly in the community – singing at fundraisers or events trying to raise awareness about different issues, performing in outreach concerts for groups of people who wouldn’t normally walk into a concert hall, etc. I have seen firsthand the ability the arts have to make a powerful impact and affect real change, so the concept of the a2ru Emerging Creatives Summit was just the kind of experience I’m interested in. The issues we discussed regarding water are very real for so many people around the world and I was excited to attend the conference and see how students from across the country who were both artistically and scientifically inclined could engage with this topic.
There were many valuable takeaways from this conference. Panelists from both the arts and sciences gave us insight into what it’s like to work collaboratively across disciplines in the professional world and gave examples of the kind of meaningful work that can come out of those collaborations. I loved the constant theme throughout the weekend that listening leads to empathy which leads to trust, and that that is how collaboration happens. The panelists pointed out that there is no need to separate emotion from reason when engaging with problems in our world. For example, truly engaging with the issue of water means both looking at water samples in a lab and thinking about the families affected by water issues and what they’re going through and having an emotional response to that. We need both artists and scientists addressing problems like this together.
When working in our groups, it was clear that interdisciplinary collaboration is tricky sometimes and takes practice! As an “artist” in my group, I struggled sometimes to keep up with some of the scientific facts and concepts discussed by some of my group members, and I’m sure the same is true for them as we discussed artistic concepts. However, as the weekend went on, we hit our stride and came out with a final project that we were all happy with. The more exposure we had to collaborative work as the days went by, the easier it became. Our group had members from 5 different states who had different majors, different ages, and different backgrounds to bring to the table, and it was such a valuable experience to navigate how to make all of our voices and ideas work together in a setting like this conference. At our own universities, it’s easy to get stuck in the bubble of your own individual coursework within your department. This experience inspired me to seek out more interdisciplinary collaborative experiences at my own university and in my own life and to continue striving to find ways to use my talents and ideas in ways that can affect real change in the world.
The a2ru Emerging Creatives Summit on water sustainability in Gainesville, Florida was my third a2ru event. I brought a student who is researching water desalinization for her PhD at MIT. She is also an active performance and installation artist. In short, she was well prepared to engage in the summit as both a scientist and an artist. a2ru has excelled at creating spaces where scientific research and an artist’s flexibility of mind can come together. The conference, hosted at the University of Florida, was another wonderful example of this new and active space.
The water summit proved exceptionally useful in addressing a concern I have- the tendency for research to happen in a bubble. Over the three day summit, students were given the opportunity to share their research in a format driven by creativity, an artist’s way of thinking, and a strong faculty and staff support structure.
Though the problems presented at the emerging creatives summits may not be solved in one weekend the connections made and the plans hatched certainly move the problems along in a way unlike one would find in the lab or the classroom. The opportunities for students to get to know one another, ample space and time to problem solve, and a receptive audience for reporting back on progress all add up to a student experience that is both engaging and productive.
As a visiting administrator, I also found space for networking and further collaboration. I enjoyed contributing as a guide for the many student teams, and also learning from and chatting with other faculty and arts administrators from peer schools. a2ru summits are fertile grounds for creating relationships based on the arts and research, furthering important conversations about global issues using creativity and data as fuel, and seeding intellectual connections that at the least help inform future decisions and at best can help connect dots between important science happening throughout the academy.
Working in a bubble surely has its benefits, but venturing out, visiting other campuses, experiencing new research, and meeting like-minded people, all with the permission that the arts gives us to experiment, is a brilliant move and one I will continue to support.
I see three major related imperatives for education: 1) we need to enhance inquiry-driven learning across disciplines, 2) we need to give our students multiple models for integrated-thinking and mixed-methodologies, and 3) for some of our biggest issues, we need to teach (and demonstrate) art and design practices as centrally located in creative research-based problem solving. With a growing recognition that our educational systems should move in the direction of cross-disciplinary learning, the most productive will be through the inclusion of the arts and design. Climate adaptation, food and water quality, and economic and social equity, to name a few global challenges, need a diverse range of research methods that focus on the shared-nature of our problems. Creative disciplines uniquely integrate diverse knowledge from the sciences, technology and humanities to invent responses to these shared problems as new futures, that might not happen without these creative practices. With this as my philosophical basis, I jumped at the chance to attend the a2ru Student Summit on Water.
And it was amazing. The experience confirmed my growing understanding of how an interdisciplinary learning and engagement model might address the above stated challenges and desires. Students arrive to the summit from diverse academic backgrounds and interests, from across the arts and sciences; however, they quickly plunge into issues and topics that “put to work” what everyone brings to the table. Our first evening together was launched with a session on ‘d.school’ design-thinking that introduces students to an empathize-define-ideate-prototype-test framework. Students utilized that methodology as an open-ended, inventive design process to conceive and develop team projects together. In just three days, teams of five students tackled big water issues such as water quality and health, the ethics of clean water access, and environmental education around water, through discreet project ideas. Creative projects emerged such as exquisite 3-D printed coral-replacement habitat reefs; billboard-style graphic visualizations for real-time community water monitoring; and new water-immersive pedagogic programs for school children. All fifteen projects presented highly-informed ways of addressing water issues through technology-integrative environments and inventive knowledge-building. a2ru invited the design research teams to submit follow-up grant applications to see their projects through to ‘development’ such as through prototyping and installation.
Each morning of the Summit started with a panel of critical artists, scientists and educators whose research-based creative works generate new understanding and engagement with water. For example, we heard from a leading climate physicist who forewarns about climate through theatrical musical performances, and a filmmaker/photographer whose research has taken her to travel with scientists to extreme water and ice landscapes of the planet. One of the leading researchers on the Flint water crisis spoke about the policy gaps between science and social justice. In telling their stories, panelists spoke both within their core-disciplines and way-outside those boundaries; in doing so, they shared the challenging but ground-breaking work they achieve through their collaborative research. In the afternoon and evening work sessions that followed, it became apparent that students were rigorously bridging each other’s disciplinary differences, and that creative practice was central to the process of shared knowledge-production.
Coming away from a2ru, and now with major threats to eliminate our federal agencies that fund research in the arts and humanities, more than ever our home institutions may need to look inward for new creative potential across our programs. Although large research universities have capacity to address some of our biggest issues through a vast range of disciplines, collaboration doesn’t happen though magic. We need educational models such as a2ru’s to break through barriers, and I’m excited about the potential to adapt its framework within my home university. As a landscape architecture professor, I can attest that our design practices create unexpected connections and relationships among fields of research, but that we need to begin these collaborations earlier and to make these new models of integration the norm.
My fifth and final Honors Learning Experience was my first self-designed experience. Writing the proposal for this Experience was actually a great opportunity in and of itself. All of the previous Experiences that I have completed have either been Honors seminars or Pre-Approved Experiences. Writing the proposal helped me to critically think about how to create a substantial and meaningful experience- a skill that I feel will be crucial for me in the future.
This Experience proposal was actually evolved from an existing opportunity. I learned of the a2ru Emerging Creatives Student Summit and was encouraged to apply to attend due to this year’s theme. The theme of Water: New Directions Through Arts and Science appealed to me because of the strong relationship between the subject matter and an Honors seminar that I completed at the end of 2013, entitled Water Justice. After completing the Water Justice course, I had a newfound appreciation and understanding of water, so was eager to dig into the topic once again.
Another reason that the conference appealed to me was because the Summit relies heavily on the theme of collaboration. As a DAAP student in Graphic Communication Design, I am always excited by opportunities to work with people outside of my discipline. It is always a an exciting challenge to see what type of unique problems can be solved in a collaborative environment.
On February 8th, 2017, I traveled to Gainesville, Florida where I met 100 students and faculty from about 20 different research universities across the country. Half of us were artists, and half of us were scientists- what a beautiful pairing!
The Summit began with a workshop on design thinking. This concept is very familiar to me due to my coursework, but it was very interesting to hear this lecture tailored for a more diverse audience rather than only designers. We spent the first evening working in pairs and learning about each other’s thoughts on the topic of design and collaboration.
The next day, Thursday February 9th, we were introduced to the groups that we would be working with for the rest of the conference. I was paired with an environmental engineer from the University of Arizona, a music-science major from the university of Denver Colorado, and a designer from the university of Iowa. We were tasked with creating any sort of solution for any sort of water-based issue. This task was honestly quite intimidating. With no requirements apart from creating a collaborative piece to tackle something in the realm of water issues, it was difficult to know where to start.
After extensive discussion and concepting, we decided to move forward with an idea to create an interactive tool for city municipalities to learn how to allocate their cities’ water budgets. We decided to use Gainesville for the purpose of our prototype since we were physically in the city and had access to local data in the University of Florida’s libraries.
While my peers began research for our mock-up, I got started on the overall look and feel and user experience aspect of the design concept. Each person in the four-part group worked on the area of the project that best fit their skill-sets. We worked on our project on and off for 2 days, dividing our time between the project and different panel lectures.
On Saturday morning, the last day of the Summit, we had the opportunity to present our piece. We titled it the H2O Budgeter. Presenting the piece and speaking about my work with over 100 people was a scary experience. When it was all said and done, we received wonderful feedback and several students from different groups reached out afterwards, asking to learn more about our project.
The Summit was a platform to meet people from different disciplines who are interested in similar social issues. The level of problem solving and conversation that I participated in during the Summit was vastly different than my everyday experiences. I would definitely recommend the Summit to anyone interested in cross-disciplinary studies.
Below I have placed the design that I created for the conference to be used as my artifact. The piece visualizes the data that we collected as a group and illustrates a friendly user-experience.
My senior year at Tufts University, I saw Orchids to Octopi by Melinda Lopez, a play about evolution. It was my “eureka” moment, proving that my two majors, chemical engineering and drama, could work together in harmony. Fast-forward two years to a chemical engineering Ph.D. student, struggling to find a community of people who were interested in both STEM and the arts. I went to the MIT Hacking Arts Festival and found scientists and artists who were interested in turning art on its head. But after a quick 24 hours, it was over, and I was back in the real world, hungry for more. When I touched down in Gainesville for the A2RU Emerging Creative Students Conference, I really wasn’t sure what to expect (I don’t think anyone really is), only thinking that I was ready to be open to all sorts of ideas. There. Were. So. Many. Ideas. Every conversation I had, from geological modeling, farm houses being turned into galleries, different meanings of access, to the carbon footprint of art and science, was so refreshing and unexpected. Throughout the three days I just kept repeating to myself, “I found my tribe,” these people, who were not just artists and scientists exploring this intersection because it was cool, but to actually inspire activism. I think that the most important takeaway from over those three days we spent exhaustingly deep design thinking, was that both STEM and the arts heavily relied on the process of trying and failing and tweaking until finding success. I found it really interesting that in both fields the finished piece is considered most important to the general public, but both scientists and artists respect the process and will to get there. This realization has inspired me to integrate art into my Ph.D. thesis. I’m thankful to have been part of a weekend that brought together so many inspiring people into the same room.