May 03, 2013
GiveBig: Nurturing Thinking Artists Through the Humanities & Sciences
: Photo by Humanities & Science class visits Seattle's Music Experience Project; Winifred Westergard, 2012..
: Photo by Tanya Matthews speaks at New Student Day 2013; Winifred Westergard, 2013..
: Image courtesy of The Seattle Foundation, 2013..
When people give to Cornish they do so because they acknowledge and value a simple truth — a Cornish education is unique.
One of the many important programs that coalesce to create this one-of-a-kind educational experience is Cornish’s year-long Integrated Studies (I.S.) program. The I.S. program is an umbrella that covers a dozen or so course options each fall from which students select as part of their first-year curriculum. While these courses encompass a variety of topics, including thematic focuses on linguistics, ecology, civics and more, all classes share a core set of educational outcomes that their respective faculty members are responsible for delivering.
Tanya Matthews, assistant professor for the Humanities & Sciences department and first-year specialist for the College, is the woman in charge of making sure all of this happens. Tanya received her B.A. from the University of Utah and completed her M.A. and Ph.D. in Linguistics at Cornell University. During her time at Cornell, she was an NSF research fellow and carried out interdisciplinary research on youth language, social networks, and categorization. Tanya’s approach to teaching and learning has been greatly influenced by Cornell’s Knight Writing Institute, where she taught discipline-based seminars for first-year students, including an award-winning course on teens and slang. Her research, education and teaching focus on issues of transition, especially the transition to college.
She explained that, at its base, the I.S. program seeks to ensure that all Cornish students enter the second year equipped with a solid foundation of writing, reading and critical thinking skills that will benefit them throughout their time at Cornish. The development of these skills is demonstrated in the spring semester when the students take on a full-fledged research project. Working closely with Cornish’s expert library staff , they wade through the informational quagmire of our digital age in pursuit of their topic. The classes then present their final product in creative ways, creating a book, recording a podcast or possibly doing a traditional “science-fair” poster presentation.
On a deeper level, each of these courses encourages a tight knit, interdisciplinary cohort of fewer than 20 students to explore new ideas, learn real-world skills and frame themselves and their art within the context of life at Cornish and beyond. Tanya hopes that success in their I.S. courses will lead students to consider how this type of academic work adds to their artistic toolkit and that the broader academic grounding really informs their work as artists, citizens and innovators. In Tanya’s opinion, some of the most compelling work coming out of Cornish is from those individuals who work collaboratively or across disciplines to create terrifically cerebral art.
Tanya understands what students are up against in this day and age. “College is not an easy process, your early 20s are not easy,” says Tanya. “You’re in school, you’re working, you’re starting to question some really big things about life. You’re being confronted with ideas and thoughts, you’re being challenged on every front around your beliefs, about the world.”
The skills learned and relationships formed in the I.S. program are the backbone for success at Cornish, empowering our students to go out and become successful members of the creative class. “Figuring out how that all works here is really important in order to get support for students in their first year,” Tanya continues, summing things up. “We help them want to stay here and succeed while they’re here.”
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