As an educator, I’m approached by students, alumni, colleagues, administration and outside parties through email…a ton. In fact, a big part of my after hours is spent on replying to all sorts of issues. Some big. Some small. Never anything in between, interestingly enough. But, the big ones are the ones I’m really proud of because it’s usually a moment where I can address a significant issue that relates to the professional development of my students…
…emails that provide a teachable moment that happens out of class, out of the designed curriculum and with no current place in my class itinerary: teaching in real-time, as I like to say.
I put a lot of care into every thing I do and, although trying to be informative, my secondary intention with these well considered emails is to impress upon my students the power of words and the value in articulating thought through written form. EMAILS THAT KICK ASS are a collection of such correspondence…cut and pasted directly from my Outlook box, but with names changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty!
*SHIFTS & STANCES* is a response to a question from a high school educator wondering about our Program’s position on the matter of offering a dual-track or supporting student interest in a double major. The question put forward is somewhat connected to the notion of interdisciplinary glass programming, but somewhat not, too. The existence of media-specific educational programming, in general, is becoming a two-sided coin I’m constantly tasked to consider and reconsider again in this current academic climate...
The learning culture and educational interests of the current day student is becoming less interested in committing to a single discipline and more interested in engaging several simultaneously. It’s a different mentality than mine when entering college in my first year twenty years ago, but I get it. And it's a learning virtue that one has to accommodate for as a contemporary educator...especially tricky territory to pilot when teaching in a media-specific context. Thinking about how to navigate that interdisciplinary “thing” in the realm of material studies (and with as complex of a material that glass certainly is) is becoming a real challenge within the job.
The conversation about "interdisciplinary study" gets complicated especially in the curricular context of material study program like the one I’m a part of; one that has been built over a long period of time during an era when a student's devotion to a particular material and its processes was incredibly popular and highly desired. The kind of educational legacy I’m tasked to steer through in this era of interdisciplinary study was one rooted in a fully rounded, thorough understanding of one's chosen field; an educational experience of both breadth AND depth. It has its pros, it has its cons...as does everything. However, the current educational experience that students demand is one that favors almost the opposite of what our program had been built upon: a broader, yet briefer, range of exposure to several educational interests at once.
Making adjustments within my own curriculum and re-examining my teaching values in this contemporary context is part of the job...and I'm certainly up for the task. It's not only opened new and exciting doors within my teaching, but equally new and exciting doors within my personal making practice. Although in support of interdisciplinary study - and VERY much in support of the idea of studying glass in the context of other disciplinary interests - I do, however, question the purpose of a dual-track or double major. I even question whether or not it's appeal to students is truly interdisciplinary.
I take things like learning, cultivating student development, and preparing students for post-graduate success very seriously. In turn, I don’t believe in compromising curriculum to allow for someone to “kind of” study it while also “kind of” studying something else...especially without any intention of merging those interests. It’s almost like allowing for students to prepare a PLAN B in case their passion for glass doesn’t professionally pan out.
Regardless, below is the beginning of me thinking such things out loud with my [Fellow Educator]...
Things have certainly been changing at RIT ever since I stepped in as faculty 6 years ago. Even more so from when I was a student 12 years ago. It has become noticeably more and more difficult to spread the idea of earning a degree in a material studies program to young people...especially glass. Here at RIT and most everywhere else.
Something that you noticed was certainly something that Michael and I have noticed, too: many students are interested in glass (and glassblowing specifically). However, only "interested" to a point. Most students who haven't claimed glass as their Major are only "interested" in having a glass experience. Not many are willing to actually study it, to commit their lives to it, to become a dedicated glass practitioner and to pursue a professional studio practice with it. Those who are on board with those things are the kinds of students our Program is designed to host. For those who are not on board, we have non-major classes that allow students interested in experiencing glass to do that in a very non-rigorous, low-pressure way.
Although the potential for a dual major is technically available, it's something that Michael and I really encourage incoming Freshman to avoid considering. Even if that means we lose a potential Major. In fact, I have to tell you, I'm really against it...for a variety of reasons. Especially if students are adamant about graduating within 4 years…
In a 4-year timeframe, the dual major move is impossible, quite frankly. The requirements for our glass students are incredibly rigorous and our expectations are incredibly high...as I'm sure is true for every other program here on campus. It's even more difficult if a student is doubling in an art-related discipline and a non-art related discipline. We have one glass major currently attempting to double in glass and biomedical sciences...he's already at a breaking point after his first year (and he hasn't really gotten into the biomedical coursework yet). If students are willing to stretch out their undergraduate tenure into a 5 or 6 (or even 7!) year stretch to accomplish a double major, I could maybe see it as possible. Potentially not very effective in either field upon graduation, but perhaps possible.
Here's the other factor that makes the double major impossible within a 4-year span: course requirements and sequencing...especially if a student is pursuing an art degree (whether glass or not) and a non-art degree (i.e. Chemistry, Engineering, Nursing...). For a student majoring in Glass, we have that first year as a Foundations year. Each required course after their Fall semester as a Freshman is to be taken in a sequential manner term after term. If that same student is also trying to earn an Engineering degree, the School of Engineering has its own full year of first-year student required courses, too...their version of our Foundations. These couldn't be done simultaneously; aside from course time conflicts, the human body isn't capable of keeping up with that kind of demand.
Aside from time conflicts between required courses, course sequencing is an additional problem. For example, if a Glass major takes Sophomore Glass I in the Fall and then takes a required Engineering course in the Spring that conflicts with Sophomore Glass II, that student has to wait one full year for Sophomore Glass II to become available again the following Spring. The same could be true in this hypothetical scenario about whatever sequence the Engineering program has designed for its majors, too.
The double major is not only complicated administratively, but perhaps delays the inevitable circumstance where a student will have to commit to a field once in the real world anyway. To develop a fruitful career in it, at least...
What I DO love about the double major as an idea is the opportunity to allow interdisciplinary cross-over between seemingly unrelated fields: of feeding and informing one student interest with information, skills, and critical thinking from another. I think that's what has allowed for some of the most fascinating breakthroughs in contemporary glass practice, especially within the past 5-7 years. Cross-over gives way to innovation and reinvention...and these observations are what motivate the teaching that Michael and I do. Especially in teaching Glass within the context of RIT...
...we're in a great place to introduce ideas of revolutionizing how our students think about and make with glass by being housed in an "Institute of Technology" (and neighboring some pretty powerful learning institutions in the region). We've been creating opportunities for our students to engage with on- and off-campus entities over the past few years to facilitate collaborative projects between our students and the students of the Kate Gleason School of Engineering's Brinkman Machine Laboratory, the Munsell Color Science Lab at the RIT Program of Color Science, the Eastman School of Music in downtown Rochester, and the Science Division of The Corning Museum of Glass to name a few. Some really jaw-dropping discoveries have happened as a result and Michael and I couldn't be happier with how these opportunities are influencing student development.
We're not necessarily interested in compromising the curricular structure of what we do to allow for more numbers. As a result, the double major or double track isn't that exciting to us. We are, however, interested in exposing the students who've committed to glass to unlikely fields and disciplines through on- and off-campus learning opportunities every year; opportunities that allow our student thinking and working with glass to keep relevant amidst the contemporary field's ever-changing landscape. It's what's setting them apart from their competitors when it comes to exhibitions, job offers, grants and fellowships, residencies, and teaching opportunities.
Although not quite the same academic pursuit you're asking about, we do share a similar interest with you: diversifying student potential by facilitating experiences in non-glass disciplines to enhance their budding glass practice. There may come a time where we are forced to make significant curricular changes that allow for such a thing as a dual track or double major thing. But until then, we're here for students who want to dedicate their time, energy, and livelihood to glass.