UIC offers BFA in art education

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For the first time in nearly a decade, University of Illinois at Chicago students interested in pursuing an undergraduate degree in studio art have the opportunity to obtain a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art Education, or BFAAE, degree, along with a professional teaching license, to prepare them to become high school art teachers.

This fall marked the first time since 2010 that students were able to begin their work toward receiving a BFAAE degree from the School of Art and Art History.

In 2016, the College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts, or CADA, recognized the need for Chicago’s urban public university to offer a pathway for UIC students to become professional art teachers, according to Karyn Sandlos, who was hired to oversee the new program at UIC.

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Sandlos, who has a doctorate in language, culture and teaching and has written extensively on teaching and the arts, was a faculty member in the art education department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she also was director of the Master of Arts in teaching program. Sandlos welcomed the opportunity to join the faculty in the School of Art and Art History, and to “imagine what a new art education program could look like in the context of a diverse public research university like UIC,” she said.

BFA Art Education

Edith Mendez and Ricky Rodriguez listen as teacher Karyn Sandlos conducts class. Photo by Jenny Fontaine, UIC News.

After taking the helm at UIC, Sandlos and UIC’s Council on Teacher Education reached out to the Illinois State Board of Education, which oversees teacher licensing in the state. In December 2016, the board reviewed the program and approved it as a track for students to obtain the Professional Educator License to teach art in ninth through 12th grade.

“This is a new program that undergraduate students apply for once they have completed the art foundation requirements,” said Sandlos. “It’s a program that appeals to students in UIC’s Bachelor of Fine Arts program, but we’re also getting a lot of interest from transfer students outside of UIC. We’re even hearing from high school students interested in art and who want to become a teacher one day.”

A cohort of five undergraduate students entered the art education major in September. While the program is situated within CADA, students also take classes in the College of Education at UIC.

As part of their art education degree, students must complete their student teaching experiences in local public schools.

“We’ve created an option for students who came up through Chicago public schools, who want to get their teaching license so they can teach in Chicago’s public education system. These are students who don’t want to study in a private institution and are looking for an affordable degree option,” Sandlos said. “I really think we’ve filled that gap, and I would also say that this program is going to draw a lot of interested students to CADA.”

Before Edith Mendez was accepted into the inaugural group, the junior was even considering transferring to another school that offered art education. Mendez, who graduated from Morton West High School in Berwyn, Illinois, and who is a sculptor and mixed-media artist, realized that teaching art would be a fulfilling way for her to earn a living.

But since UIC did not have a track for her to get her teaching license, Mendez began coming to terms with the fact that she would have to transfer to a different university. She was actively considering attending the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, among other schools, even though she knew leaving would cause an economic hardship because she would have to incur housing fees and higher tuition.

“I think it definitely opens up more opportunities for people,” said Mendez, adding that after the art education program began, she chose to remain at UIC. “It made my choice way easier, because I was confused about what I wanted to do with my career and my major. It grounded me more and it gave me some sense of peace because I knew what I was going to do with my life.”

Students go into the program in the third year of their college career, after they’ve fulfilled requirements in studio art, art history and general education.

“We’ve already had a ton of interest from potential students,” Sandlos said.

Next year’s cohort of students will almost double the current size, and Sandlos expects it to continue growing. Officials had previously suspended the BFA in art education program due to available resources at the time.

BFA Art Education

Pictured sitting left to right: Janet Sanchez, Edith Mendez and Jennifer Gonzalez. Standing left to right: Latrell Walton, Karyn Sandlos and Ricky Rodriguez. Photos by Jenny Fontaine, UIC News.

Because UIC has a large number of diverse students from Chicago and the surrounding area, the program is expected to also fill the need for more teachers of color. Currently, there is a demand for teachers of color, especially for male teachers, to address the teacher shortage in Illinois and across the U.S.

Latrell Walton decided to join the art education program — even though he had earned enough credits to graduate with a BFA degree — so he could take education courses and get his teaching license.

Walton, a photographer, was very happy when the program began because he wanted to give back to the community and serve as a role model and mentor to younger students. He graduated from Gwendolyn Brooks High School, a Chicago public school on the far South Side.

“I want to give them something that they can feel a connection to and to be that one person who can possibly help them get through whatever things are making them stress,” Walton said. “I was going to go to Chicago Public Schools in the first place, so I felt it was going to get me to what I was trying to do faster.”

During the summer, Sandlos began meeting with representatives from a local nonprofit, “Grow Your Own Teachers Illinois,” or GYO, whose focus is to diversify the teaching profession in the state. “The group works closely with several other colleges but was eager to get more UIC students involved,” Sandlos said.

The organization recently selected five students from UIC’s new art education program to participate in the initiative where they will receive financial, academic and social support in exchange for a five-year commitment to teach in a high-need public school after they graduate, said Ken Snyder, outreach coordinator for GYO. Students can receive up to $25,000 in tuition assistance each during their lifetime.

While the group can’t guarantee that the students will be hired, Snyder said the group’s graduates are highly sought after by school leaders. By reestablishing the art education program at UIC, the college will serve to bring more high-quality teachers of color into the profession, said Snyder, adding that officials were impressed with the UIC students.

“Their passion for becoming teachers, and the understanding they showed about how, as teachers of color, they can positively impact the lives of their future students was impressive,” Snyder said.

Among the students involved with GYO are Mendez, Walton, Jennifer Gonzalez and Ricky Rodriguez, an artist whose medium is painting and drawing. Rodriguez, a junior who graduated from Carl Schurz High School on the city’s Northwest Side, said he grew up in Humboldt Park and when he heard about the BFAAE returning to UIC, he jumped at the chance because it combined his dream of becoming an artist and working with young people.

“I’ve always wanted to teach in the city,” Rodriguez said. “What got me interested was the ability to intertwine art and teaching; it definitely opens up a lot of opportunities for artists.”

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