Inter-generational learning in the arts

One of Lehigh University’s greatest signatures are the inter-disciplinary learning opportunities for students. It’s not one set course of study, or a restricted major. Interdisciplinary learning is a philosophy of engagement that has been infused in multiple programs and initiatives in all of our colleges. The P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science lists these programs, the College of Business presents their commitment to interdisciplinary teaching here. The College of Education  has created the Institute for Urban Leadership which embraces an interdisciplinary approach to developing new leadership skills for the next generation of urban school leaders. The College of Arts and Sciences had dedicated an entire office to support these programs.

Our president and provost have encouraged new ways of interdisciplinary thinking for Lehigh’s future in launching the a search for two new presidential chairs in health related sciences, the Dexter F. Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation, and let’s not forget the new S.T.E.P.s building.

Overwhelming? Perhaps. But the reason I bring this topic into the newsletter is not to boast about the greatness of Lehigh University. But to introduce another kind of interdisciplinary work that happens in the arts research areas of our fair institution.

Regarding the student/teacher relationship.

An older definition of learning can be described thus. Teacher gives information; student absorbs information and demonstrates acquisition of information in papers and exams. This model is changing in many conversations about effective learning in many areas.

The mentor model is often seen in arts learning. When one studies music, the teacher and student work one-to-one to learn how to play an instrument or sing, and also how to critically listen for tuning, style and execution. In theatre, the director coaches students for character development and ensemble presence. Dancers learn position of the body and coordination of multiple bodies on the stage. Artists and designers learn to deconstruct perspective and apply specific techniques to canvas, easel, desktop, costume or stage design. Writers coach for tone, voice and resonance.

There is a special kind of mentorship happening at Lehigh University. This is one where the professional actor, musician, artist, designer and director PERFORMS WITH the ensemble. Many faculty [and staff] at Lehigh are professionally trained artists. They continue their artistic research in composition, play writing, poetry, sculpture and design. And when they engage in the performance and creative process, the students absorb that quality of output, which in turn adds to their performance capacity. Where is this most evident?

Look at the names on the next Music Department program. Choral Arts, Orchestra or Jazz Ensemble; you will find names of faculty, staff and local professionals in the roster. Some concerts present compositions by our faculty. Make your way to a Drown Writer’s Series at the Humanities Center. Faculty will sometimes read their own work there. The Art, Architecture and Design faculty just did an all faculty show at the Lehigh University Art Galleries last year. There’s still plenty of exhibition catalogs to see their work. Their studios in Chandler-Ullmann are filled with their current projects, placed right next to student work. Catch one of the final performances of the current theatre department’s production of “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” Professor Kashi Johnson is in the cast.

What does it say about interdisciplinary learning? Let’s call it more, inter-generational learning. When a students says, “Oh yeah? You do it!” the professionals step up. It says that Lehigh’s arts faculty are dedicated to their art forms in performance, composition, and production as much as they are teaching and giving service to the institution. That takes a huge amount of dedicated to time. And we are all the better for it.

I welcome your comments here.