Stevenson has long had a reputation for offering an exceptional education that gives students a connection to their career aspirations.
It's also known for the arts and cultural opportunities it offers to the SU community as well as the broader Baltimore audience. Today, the university is tying these two aspirations into its curricula for the more traditional arts degree programs, allowing students to explore their passions while giving them the practical skills to take their first steps on an enduring career path.
Theatre and Media Performance
The theatre and media performance program is training the entrepreneurial performing artist for the 21st century, according to Ryan Clark, Program Coordinator and Assistant Professor of Theatre.
"Students engage in a traditional actor training, which includes scene study, voice, movement, and theatre history. Additionally, students take two levels of acting for the camera and voiceover performance to prepare them for a wide range of media performance opportunities."
Clark notes that career readiness is key to the program and cites two examples: Business of the Actor and Audition Technique. "In Business of the Actor, students create a career plan that aligns with their interests," he explains. "They explore regions of the country where their unique performance skills would be most marketable; resume, headshot, and financial planning round out this critical course. In Audition Technique, students learn how to choose material that best fits roles they might audition for on stage and camera and then practice with professors, acting coaches, and casting directors. The course culminates in a showcase of the student's best work."
Clark has continued in the fine Stevenson tradition of making live theatre an essential part of the cultural life of the university. Each year, the program produces three to four plays in two distinct spaces, The Inscape Theatre and The Studio Theatre.
"Theatre is by nature a collaborative art," he says. "We have been diligently working with other departments on campus to bring theatrical texts into the classroom. For example, we are in our third year of partnering with the English Department. Students read one or more of the plays we produce in writing and composition classes. We conduct workshops with these classes in preparation of their seeing the performance and then post-performance talk-backs with the cast, designers, and directors to give nontheatre students a window into the creative process."
In October, Clark and Laurel Moody, Assistant Professor of Nursing, will be working together on a standardized patient simulation dealing with end-of-life/hospice care. Clark's Acting II students will play patients and family members dealing with
chronic illness, and Moody's upper-level nursing students will play nurses interacting with this challenging scenario. "This is an excellent opportunity for acting students to create realistic characters and work on improvisation skills while nursing students will explore a 'real-life' patient and family situation," he says.
Looking ahead, Clark has spoken with Jeanne Geiger-Brown, Dean of the Berman School of Nursing and Health Professions, and Merrie Dermowicz, Dean of the Fine School of the Sciences, about programming an entire theatre season with math, science, and health care themes. For example, he suggests, issues of medical ethics, women in science, energy policy, and climate change might be possible areas to explore.
"The key to successful arts programming is the connectivity with all areas of the university, thus providing a rich liberal arts experience for every SU student."
Fashion Design and Fashion Merchandising
This fall will see the merger of two creative and practical academic programs, fashion design and fashion merchandising, under one roof—literally and figuratively. Although both will remain separate degree programs, they will both be in the School of Design (formerly, fashion merchandising was in the School of Business and Leadership), reporting to Forest Bell, Interim Chair of Fashion Design and Merchandising.
"Regarding these two fields of study, one does not exist without the other," Bell says. "Now, we can take information and ideas through the entire fashion creation and distribution process across both degrees and help students better understand the role that each plays."
In addition to being a sound move for the curricula, today's fashion industry also played a role in the decision. "With the changing speed in the fashion production timeline, designers and merchandisers must work in close proximity to ensure that new design trends, customer needs, and production timelines are met," explains Bell. "This balance between examining past business performance and adopting current and future trends that are essential to your target customer needs requires a fine balance between quantitative and qualitative data. Each has degree holds an important element in data collection and analysis."
Now, both degrees are fine-tuned to teach students a balance of both the needed and wanted information that prepares them for a broad range of careers. Fashion design positions can range from—among others—art director, fashion writer, and trend forecaster to design product developer, fashion illustrator, and costume designer. In the field of fashion merchandising, students can consider working as a marketing manager, merchandise coordinator, showroom manager, stylist, and more.
"The merger of fashion design and fashion merchandising is a natural replication of common fashion and retail environments," says Bell. "By bringing these two degrees together in the School of Design we are offering students a real-world perspective and opening up the possibility for further and more in-depth collaborations."
Visual Communication Design
At Stevenson, one example of responding to developments in the field is the visual communication design program's Senior Capstone course, which looks at design for social change.
Throughout the course, students not only learn to apply the skills they've learned throughout the programs but also show that they understand a thoughtful design process by finding solutions to problems. Working independently, they identify an issue that can be solved by design, such as a public service announcement or an art project, exploring what it is and how applicable is it in today's society.
"For some students, the scope of what they're thinking about is based on their experience and how they see the world; others research and interpret for a more universal message," says George Moore, Chair and Professor of Art.
One example comes from the first capstone in fall 2015, in which a student chose to show the impact of plastic grocery bags on the environment. "She did a ton of research and ended up designing a character—a pelican—to bring the issue to life as well as a point of purchase display that suggested adopting reusable bags by talking about the universal problems caused by plastic ones," Moore recalls.
"The capstone is our measure of a student's ability to tackle work independently, preparing them for careers. Some will be production artists, creative directors, or run their own business. We teach them to look at the bigger picture and know where to start problem-solving."
Projects from the course—the last design course taken by all visual communication design students in their last semester—are shown as a gallery exhibit for the entire community to see. "Traditional design campaigns start at a prototype stage, so conceivably, the exploration of ideas in the capstone could lead to real things being produced," Moore says.
External professionals also lend their guidance; last semester, for example, students took part in a workshop at Open Works, a community-based hub for fabrication tools. "It's looking outside the classroom—they're interacting with real people and real problems.
"And that's the interesting challenge: these projects address real issues, which means that students don't necessarily always come up with an answer or a solution, and they learn that through the process, too—just as they will in the real world once they graduate. Now, they're already equipped to face both challenges and opportunities."
Although not currently an academic degree, music—which is offered as a minor—can be found throughout the university, from the Marching Band to the Greenspring Valley Orchestra, and more.
Today's vision for the program, says Mark Lortz, Interim Director of Music, is to have a music department that combines performance ensembles such as the choir, band, and orchestra with academic courses, from music history and music theory to music technology and performance studies. "This will give students in the minor a much broader understanding, both theoretically and applied, of the foundations and impact of
music, both historically and today."
He also wants more students to consider becoming music minors. "The idea is that students involved in ensembles, such as the Gospel Choir, All Natural, and others, can truly benefit from the academic aspects of the music minor. We want to spread the word about the importance of music on campus. It's fulfilling to both the students who are involved and the community."
Lortz stresses to students who feel that they're not talented enough to participate that the program caters to the informal learner through a supportive atmosphere and a family environment. "We're extremely collaborative. We would like to have the orchestra perform with the choir, the choir with the marching band. We're also encouraging marching band members to be part of orchestra or choir—the fact is that the more you do, better you'll get."
Among others helping Lortz to achieve his goal will be new orchestra director Harlan Parker, Ph.D., who has been at the Peabody Institute for 28 years and will continue teaching there, and new choir director Beverly Gandolfo, who taught in Carroll County Schools for more than 30 years.
"We're still having a concert at end of each semester but we're also looking at other opportunities on campus that show our range, such as pop-up performances like the choir singing at a dinner or orchestra members playing during a recruitment event," Lortz says. "It's a new semester, a new vision, and a new direction that is student-focused and all-inclusive."
Looking Ahead: Film and Moving Image
Starting this fall, the film and moving image program has consolidated into a two-track structure, says Chris Reed, Chair and Professor of Film and Moving Image.
"When the major was introduced under its current name in 2013, the program offered four tracks: cinematography, editing, producing, and writing," he explains. "As we have evaluated the track requirements since then, we have noticed that our technically minded students identify interests in both cinematography and editing courses and producing and writing courses by taking electives in those areas." Now, the program offers the two tracks of cinematography/editing and producing/writing to both streamline and round out students' academic experience.
Reed adds that the outside world of various film-and-moving-image professions also drove the decision to combine the tracks. "There is an increasing need for filmmakers who can do these combinations of shooting and editing their own material, for hire, and writing and producing their own material, for production. As such, the combination of our tracks better serves the professional needs of our graduates."