A well-rounded education incorporates both arts and sciences to give students the tools to build the careers — and the lives — they want.
MTSU’s College of Basic and Applied Sciences and College of Liberal Arts literally put those “missing pieces” together in a monthslong, interdisciplinary collaboration to show students the skills they can use to meet nearly any challenge, even in a pandemic.
University leaders Lucy Langworthy, art education professor Debrah Sickler-Voigt, former liberal arts Dean Karen Petersen and CBAS Dean Bud Fischer — and a six-member committee — used their own skills to help students create and implement an eye-catching display of 10 giant painted wooden puzzle pieces between Todd Hall and the Davis Science Building in the center of campus.
Each of those 5-foot-square handmade, hand-illustrated, hand-painted pieces, created during a two-day “Pop-Up Mural Event” in September, illustrate a competency, or skill, recommended for success by the World Economic Forum.
Those skills include people management, creativity, complex problem-solving, judgment and decision-making, service orientation, critical thinking, coordination with others, negotiation, cognitive flexibility, and emotional intelligence.
The MTSU “Be the Missing Piece” project’s goal was to show students — and anyone else who passed by — how abilities developed in different arts and science specialties can fit careers — and lives — together.
“You can’t just sit passively in class and develop these skills,” said Langworthy, who joined MTSU in 2006 as an academic advisor and became manager of the College of Liberal Arts’ advisors before taking on her current role as assistant to former Dean Petersen.
“You’ve got to do your part; you’ve got to go do an internship or go join a club. You have to be able to connect with an assignment and realize, ‘Oh, this is going to help me later on.’ You have to be reflecting on it and see how it’s really helping you.”
The colleges’ annual Arts and Science Majors Showcase, launched in fall 2018, began as an event to show students that combining their creative skills and scholastic passions, and integrating majors and minors in different disciplines, can also give them a competitive career edge.
Organizers soon realized, however, that folks passing out brochures and answering questions was only one factor in inspiring students’ curiosity.
Langworthy asked Sickler-Voigt early in spring 2020 to lead her art education practicum students in brainstorming a collaborative “community art project” for the fall 2020 showcase.
The CLA leaders sought similar advice from sciences students and CBAS staffers. The collaborating committee included:
• Dr. Betsy Dalton, an associate professor in liberal arts’ Department of Communication Studies.
• Suzanne Hicks, graduate coordinator for the CBAS Master of Science in Professional Science Program.
• Senior chemistry major Rachel Marlin, who’s also a student recruiter for MTSU’s MTeach program.
• Department of Chemistry professor Patricia “Pat” Patterson.
• Mimi Thomas, director of MTSU’s Tennessee Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program in the CBAS.
• Ella Weaver, the College of Liberal Arts internship coordinator.
“We were inspired by the silhouette designs from the CLA featured in Peck Hall,” said Sickler-Voigt, who’s taught in MTSU’s Department of Art and Design since 2003 and whose expertise in teaching art teachers has led to international awards for her students’ projects as well as honors for her at home and abroad.
“We developed 10 wood puzzle pieces and planned to paint and mosaic those designs. The science students had the idea to use the images of MTSU students in our designs instead of professional ‘business’ style people.
“Because the semester moved online, my students had to finish their designs at home using the technologies they had available to them. Stephan Micheletto-Blouin, who’s a woodworker and a furniture-maker and has an MFA (Master of Fine Arts), cut out the pieces, and we drew our designs onto the pieces and added mosaics. The idea was to display them on campus and anybody would be welcome to come by and paint them with us. Then COVID happened.”
The pandemic, and MTSU’s resulting health safety protocols, led the organizers to add mask and social-distancing requirements to their community event and forge ahead with the uniquely informative public art project.
Because the completed puzzle pieces also can be installed at other sites, they can also be the focus — socially distanced or not — of more campus events and activities.
“One of the art education majors … during the process itself of putting this together, said she learned that very skill she was pointing out, ‘coordinating with others,'” Langworthy said.
“What a beautiful thing to be learning now, because these students are going to be collaborating when they get out, in their jobs. That’s the world they’re going to enter.”
Sickler-Voigt noted that collaborating with so many others on the project added even more significance for the students.
“The art education students have really appreciated the tactile learning experience of painting and mosaicking the puzzle pieces in a time of COVID, when we are socially distanced and spend so much time learning and working on screen,” the professor said.
“They felt a sense of community collaborating with their classmates and also with the 100 students across campus who volunteered to paint and assist with the mosaic designs.”
The opportunity for students from different disciplines and backgrounds to work together on the project outweighed the pandemic-enforced isolation and inconveniences they faced, Hicks said.
“These are skills to carry over into your personal life as well,” said Hicks, a two-time MTSU alumna who’s working on a second master’s degree, this time in strategic leadership, after earning her first in biotechnology. She’d also been an academic adviser at MTSU since 2014 until she took on the MSPS program last year.
“It’s been a great collaboration between colleges. We want to work together, and we want students to leave here and be able to function not only in their career but also their personal lives,” Hicks said.
— Gina E. Fann (firstname.lastname@example.org)