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Art and Design aide manages supplies, schedules, s...

Art and Design aide manages supplies, schedules, student life amid pandemic: ‘Use your patience’

Denise Harris, executive aide for the Department of Art and Design in the College of Liberal Arts, takes a break in her office in the Todd Building, where she's surrounded by plenty of great art while she helps students, faculty and staff get what they need to create, whether they're learning and working on or off campus during the pandemic. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

Imagine working in your office without electricity to connect your computer or paper to print your documents. Now imagine being an artist without paints or canvases or clay.

MTSU’s Denise Harris, executive aide for the Department of Art and Design, has kept her students and faculty connected with both supplies and support during the pandemic as they navigate the university’s virtual, online and remote classes, along with the handful of in-person courses.

It’s her job, certainly, but it’s also her joy. Serving as a conduit for students who need to meet with their professors, pick up items or use labs in the historic Todd Building has been almost a cinch compared to juggling supply logistics.

“There were a lot of back orders that just weren’t coming in, and I think that’s been our biggest challenge,” Harris explains. “If we can’t get charcoal and paper to them, they can’t work.

“They pay for it, and we want to get it out to them as quickly as possible, but the university has policies and ways of doing things, so we had … to figure out how to get them delivered to the school and then pay the extra money to get them shipped to the students.

“Everybody agreed that we’re just going to do what we can do, get things working, get out whatever we can. I’ve seen that everywhere on campus: the agreement that we’re going to work it through for everybody.”

Denise Harris, executive aide for the Department of Art and Design in the College of Liberal Arts, checks the Todd Building's inventory for supplies that students, faculty and staff need to create, whether they're learning on or off campus during the pandemic. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

Denise Harris, executive aide for the Department of Art and Design in the College of Liberal Arts, checks the Todd Building’s inventory for supplies that students, faculty and staff need to create, whether they’re learning on or off campus during the pandemic. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

MTSU’s Department of Art and Design, which is part of the university’s College of Liberal Arts, offers undergraduate degree programs in art education, art history, visual arts, studio art and graphic design.

It also regularly invites artists ranging from local to international fame to exhibit in the Todd Art Gallery, conduct workshops and lecture in classes.

Harris is also a student, finishing up a bachelor’s degree with a liberal arts concentration in the Integrated Studies Program in MTSU’s University College, and she has the perspective of both sides of students’ struggles — and successes — during the pandemic.

Indeed, as a university employee, a student and a mom of three, her 24/7 multitasking experience keeps coming in handy.

Her 2020 fall in-person class was a particularly good one, she said, and not only because of the art history topic. “I felt safe because we were all spread out,” Harris says. “I personally get more out of the class when I can hear other students talk and give input and ask the teacher things right there.”

Her membership in MTSU’s chapter of the Phi Kappa Phi national honor society, along with her receipt of one of two 2019 ATHENA scholarships for nontraditional students, proves that she can meet her own classroom challenges, too.

She’s been using her bit of extra spare time in the art department’s quieter offices to learn more about the university.

The Office of International Affairs regular profiles on international students and their campus experiences have been a special day-brightener, Harris says.

Denise Harris, executive aide for the Department of Art and Design in the College of Liberal Arts, pauses while checking for supplies that students, faculty and staff need to create, whether they're learning and working on or off campus during the pandemic. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

Denise Harris, executive aide for the Department of Art and Design in the College of Liberal Arts, pauses in the Todd Building while checking for supplies that students, faculty and staff need to create, whether they’re learning and working on or off campus during the pandemic. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

“I have so enjoyed reading those! I didn’t even know we had half that stuff on campus,” she says with a laugh. “I had to tell them how much I’ve enjoyed reading those stories and getting to know the students and how people from everywhere find out about MTSU.

“With everybody staying away, I’ve taken a few minutes to enjoy things like that and reading about how everybody tries to come up with ways of being together but not being together and still maintain a regular kind of college experience. … Some people are still trying to make it fun and to bring people together, and I’ve really enjoyed seeing that.

“I’ve talked to faculty, and it’s the same as what’s going on in their classes,” Harris continues. “They say they’ve been trying to be as helpful as possible. There are so many different situations going on out there that really, the No. 1 thing I think that everybody needs to do is use your patience. Use your patience and try to be as helpful as you can.”

— Gina E. Fann (gina.fann@mtsu.edu)

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