I teach as a natural extension of my love of learning — to share enthusiasm, to test myself, and to engage students as partners in learning.
I am an educator who asks students to understand themselves, to face uncertainty, and to reflect on missteps as tools in their development. Experiential learning, mentoring, and inquiry are the pillars of this pedagogy.
I use experiential learning to flip students’ expectations for what learning looks and feels like, and I find it to be a valuable tool for helping students to incorporate and connect learning from across courses while developing career skills. I seek out community partners and real-world problems, selecting those whose needs can be probed and questioned by the students in collaborative, student-directed projects. This brings risk of rejection and failure into the classroom, but in turn it provides space for inventive, novel solutions while requiring students to face uncertainty, to uncover and evaluate assumptions, and to practice making choices through peer-collaboration and census. In what at first feels like an uneasy and rudderless process, I build trust with my students and prompt them to reflect on each step of the experience, which in turn gives their learning form and direction.
I believe that you get what you seek from your education, and so I insist that my students become active participants in their learning. I support this by building mentoring structures into my courses. The cross-disciplinary professional development course that I developed for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga brings this ideal into the classroom in a series of coursework that scaffolds from self-reflection to modeling a career trajectory. I prompt students to develop self-knowledge, to identify their creative habits and interests, to direct these toward their development, and then to propose and practice the kind of work they want to be making after graduation. Where I normally push students to try new things, in this upper division course I prompt students to bring continuity to their work. This provides students with an orienting experience that helps them to create concrete goals for their remaining education and the beginnings of their careers.
Self-reflective inquiry and mindfulness are important to me because they are powerful tools for young minds to exert conscious control in the direction of their life. But, in addition to inquiring inward, all of my students are expected to research and bring their own subject-matter interests to the classroom. I want to cultivate graphic designers who love to ask questions and whose favorite answer is “I don’t know.” I help students adopt a joyful approach to discovery and research through my own multi-disciplinary background and by pulling together subject-matter materials with wide and varied perspectives around any particular problem being examined. When ever possible, I bring supplemental materials that respond to student interests and discussions, which allows me to model research practices in a way that’s engaging for my students. I also work research exercises into all levels, from an assignment that asks students to embrace serendipity by pulling random books from the library stacks to one that asks students to intensely investigate all facets and contexts of a single material.
I bring in subject-matter inquiry because learning is the joy and passion of my life, but it has a practical imperative for my students. To be effective as professional designers, students need to practice information literacy in design classrooms. They must be accustomed to approaching and examining an unfamiliar body of information. This is for two reasons. First, the ideas and information that might be needed for any one project will be locked up inside the language and corpus of other disciplines. Next, professional designers are expected to work alongside multiple disciplines and to apply their craft to the benefit of any type of information. Connecting other fields to classroom projects and design problems, open students to being broader observers, deeper learners, and more versatile creative thinkers.
Students have used my projects to identify their passions and to build their professional confidence. My students feel that they can be themselves and be designers at the same time. For the professional world, I want them armed with tools and mindsets for making the work they want to make — knowing what that is, the steps they need to get there, and the resources to handle the yet-unknown.