• A phrase in poetry is not just that phrase, but the echoes of all the words that you didn't choose, that could have been chosen in the place of the words that you did choose. And for me, that is very definitional of what the arts is; it explores the empty spaces around what is.

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a2ru’s Inaugural Executive Intern Bids Farewell

  • December 5, 2016
  • By Willie Caldwell     
Interdisciplinary arts integration is about more than transforming STEM to STEAM. It’s recognizing the strength of collaborative innovation and the transformative value of arts and design disciplines.


I first learned of a2ru in the summer of 2015 when I was working as a graduate assistant at the Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech. As a GA, I was charged with coordinating the national a2ru conference that would be hosted by Virginia Tech later that year. The conference gave me a phenomenal introduction to the realm of interdisciplinary arts integration and afforded me the opportunity to deeply explore the areas of work being done across multiple institutions of higher education. In all honesty, I finally felt like I had found my people.

The 2015 conference allowed me to see first-hand the ways in which arts and design are crucial to contemporary problem solving. The three-day event explored ways in which theatre could change how we look at brain trauma, how virtual reality could be integrated with neuroscience, and how a live theatrical cooking experience could be used to combat cultural diabetes. Seeing the ways in which interdisciplinary arts integration could have real and meaningful impact on issues such as health care, entrepreneurship, sustainability, S.E.A.D initiatives, and ethics had a profound effect on how I began to see my future.

My work with a2ru eventually led me to inquire about the possibility of an executive internship, as required of my MFA in arts leadership and higher education. After some initial discussion about how an internship with a2ru could be mutually beneficial, Executive Director Dr. Baefsky and a2ru welcomed me with open arms. In the fall of 2016, I relocated to Ann Arbor for a semester-long experience that would help shape me as an artist, educator, and arts administrator.

Working with a2ru has been a remarkable opportunity. The ability to contribute meaningfully to this nascent organization focused on interdisciplinary arts integration in higher education reinforced the skills I have been strengthening and building over the past two and a half years. The executive internship challenged me in new and exciting ways and allowed me to realize the impact that my work could have in this field. As the executive intern, I helped develop long-term strategy for the organization, participated in executive and curricular committee meetings, built long-range communications strategies, and helped a2ru engage in federal advocacy.

My time with a2ru has allowed me to strengthen friendships and working relationships with my future colleagues across the country. It provided exposure to the many challenges and opportunities that we face as artists and educators working in interdisciplinary fields. It enabled me to strengthen my philosophy of education, examine arts and design as “ways of knowing,” and connect that knowledge to the public good.

Interdisciplinary arts integration is about more than transforming STEM to STEAM. It’s recognizing the strength of collaborative innovation and the transformative value of arts and design disciplines. Arts and design are intrinsic to the STEM fields. They are imbedded in the practice of STEM disciplines and they share a very similar iterative process. Creativity and innovation follow the same rules of engagement whether you are a painter, a programmer, a builder, or a biologist.

We live in interesting times. The problems we are facing as a country and as global citizens are among the most complicated challenges we’ve encountered in recent memory. Solving these problems requires collaboration, innovation, and working across the boundaries of both our departmental and national silos. It also requires reaching across the aisles of our partisanship in pursuit of the common good.

A lot of the work we do in the interdisciplinary field exists in uncharted waters. As I come to the end of my internship experience and enter the final semester of my MFA program, I find myself navigating the same seas. While our environment may contain many unknowns, it also contains unparalleled adventure, possibility, and potential. I am honored and humbled to consider myself a member of this emerging field and I am excited at the prospect of sailing these unfamiliar currents to an undiscovered country.

Thank you to Dr. Laurie Baefsky, Deb Mexicotte, Maryrose Flanigan, Gabe Harp, Edgar Cardenas, and Amy Tackitt. While I am proud to call you colleagues, I am moved to call you friends.


Willie Caldwell is a graduate student in the MFA Arts Leadership program at Virginia Tech. He is an interdisciplinary artist, educator, and arts administrator with backgrounds in theatre, music, music technology, business, and higher education administration. He is actively looking for a job. Visit www.williefcaldwell.com for more information.