Op-ed: UC's co-op program will soon extend to fine arts students

Pathway to a career

Cindy Bailey Damschroder is an assistant professor with the Division of Professional Practice and Experiential Learning (ProPEL) at the University of Cincinnati.

At the University of Cincinnati, the birthplace of cooperative education, co-ops have long been associated with engineering, architecture and design. But what about fine arts?

A new initiative at UC adds co-op to the requirements for a degree in fine arts starting next fall, exposing a new generation of art students to a proven pathway to career success.

 

Cindy Damschroder

Connecting co-op and fine arts just makes sense. Many students who are talented artists in high school are also creative problem solvers. More often than not, though, they choose not to enroll in fine arts because they cannot easily connect workplace-ready skills with a fine arts degree.

Stories of the “starving artist” abound, so high school graduates opt for more “defined” paths like graphic design, industrial design, fashion design, interior design or architecture. And while these are strong college majors and careers, it is often disheartening to hear college students lament, “I was good in art in high school, but my parents thought this was a more realistic career choice.”

Students today are expected to be aware of other cultures, solve problems and think creatively across disciplines. Fine arts enhances those skills. Co-op enhances classroom theory and learning while providing full-time, paid, discipline-related, mentored work experiences. Rod Paige, former U.S. secretary of education, said, “To put it simply, we need to keep the arts in education because they instill in students the habits of mind that last a lifetime: critical analysis skills, the ability to deal with ambiguity and to solve problems, perseverance and a drive for excellence.”

Two-thirds of arts graduates’ first jobs out of college closely match the kind of work they desired, according to the 2011 Strategic National Arts Alumni Project survey of more than 13,000 alumni of 154 different U.S. arts programs. Contrary to popular stereotypes, only 3 percent reported working in food service. While those surveyed were highly innovative and entrepreneurial, few were happy with their income or with the career advising they were offered in college.

Douglas Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas at Austin, said, “We need to be doing a better job of preparing our students for the business realities that they face after graduation…Most of the professional fine arts degrees are saturated with regimented requirements that leave little room for additions, so every call for curricular reform has to address the zero-sum realities of what we must squeeze into a curriculum and what we can afford to leave out.”

UC’s Fine Arts baccalaureate program now reflects that shift by framing its fine arts curriculum like other programs at the colege of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, the degree will now be a five-year bachelor's of fine arts.

As the National Association of Schools of Arts and Design accredits the program, it will continue to have an eight semester (121 credit hour) classroom component along with an additional three semesters of co-op. Students will also be encouraged to complement their degrees with a minor – DAAP offers nine minors while there are dozens more offered across campus.

The addition of a required co-op component into UC’s Fine Arts curriculum sets the university apart. Students who work in traditional and contemporary media (ceramics, drawing, sculpture, printmaking, photography, electronic art, and installation art) can easily transfer those skills in state-of-the art computer graphics, rapid prototyping and experimental technology laboratories.

The world needs more creativity to face and solve ever-more complex and serious challenges—fine arts students can help by developing new and innovative ideas, approaches and answers.

 

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