Posts in: Kudos
By Leah Veldhuisen ’19
Steve Taylor is an associate research professor at Colorado College, where he studies cave and groundwater biology. He just received a $9,644 from grant from the Cave Conservancy Foundation to fund research on small, shrimp-like animals called subterranean amphipods.
This coming summer, Taylor and one or more students will sample groundwater beneath streams and in springs and caves across numerous river basins in the Colorado Rockies to collect amphipods and record environmental parameters.
Taylor, who is married to Tutt Library Director JoAnn Jacoby, describes the significance of this research, saying, “as stewards of this little jewel of a planet floating through time and space, are we not better equipped to make decisions when we know what lives here?” He also says that “shallow groundwater is one of the easiest habitats to contaminate through human activities such as leaking septic or gasoline tanks, or contaminated runoff from roadways,” but is often overlooked. Human activities have a broad array of impacts on surface and groundwater, meaning that knowledge of “new populations or new species of amphipods could feed into all sorts of decisions in the future.”
The Cave Conservancy Foundation grant will allow Taylor to take on one research student in the summer of 2018, and possibly a second if additional CC funding allows. Students can contact Taylor directly at firstname.lastname@example.org if interested in this research, as Taylor explains “with advance, planning, many things are possible!”
By Leah Veldhuisen ’19
Andrew Westphal ’P20 is a physicist and professor at the University of California, Berkeley. During Block 2, Westphal took a break from the Bay Area to teach the Scientific Revolutions First-Year Experience course, which focused specifically on relativity.
The experience of coming from a large university on the semester system to a small liberal arts college on the Block Plan gave Westphal an interesting perspective on CC. In regard to the Block Plan, Westphal quite simply says “I am sold!”
He explains that he was able to cover more material more in depth than while teaching multiple classes at a time, and that the pace of the class felt “luxuriously unhurried.” With all the time provided by the Block Plan, students were able to test Einstein’s special relativity at the top of Pikes Peak, and some even brought mountain bikes to ride down at the end. Students remarked to Westphal it was an experience that could happen, “only at CC!”
Despite all the benefits Westphal noticed about the Block Plan, he also says it’s exhausting. “Teaching on the Block Plan requires a lot of frontloading, because there is no time to prepare between classes. By the end of the block I felt as if I had run a marathon. I don’t know how CC faculty do it,” he explains.
Westphal noticed other impressive qualities of CC. He describes the Honor Code as “a treasure unheard of at many colleges,” and remarks on the interesting interdepartmental conversations that happen over lunch at Rastall. “It seems to happen quite naturally, and is another CC treasure,” he describes. Westphal says he hopes to return to CC in a few years to teach a course on cosmochemistry and hopefully collaborate with a terrestrial geology course.
By Leah Veldhuisen ’19
Norberto Orellana ’20 wants people to know that success is always imminent. The CC sophomore has overcome a lot in his 19 years; he’s been extremely successful and continues to have big aspirations.
Orellana was born with right spastic semihemiplegia cerebral palsy and has been through many surgeries to limit its effects. While often moving between states, Orellana also experienced homelessness in high school. Despite all of this, he was the first in his family to graduate from high school. He graduated with honors, as well as an associate’s degree, and now is a chemistry major at Colorado College. He hopes to attend medical school to become a pediatric orthopedic surgeon.
Orellana drew from many of these experiences for his talk titled “Success is Just Around the Corner” at the TEDx Colorado Springs event earlier this month.
After spending this summer on campus for research, Orellana wanted to find a way to become more involved in the Colorado Springs community. Through his searches, he discovered TEDx Colorado Springs. Orellana had already spoken at TEDx Youth Miami in February, so he knew right away he would be interested in speaking again. Orellana explains, “I enjoy being able to speak to [groups]. It makes me extraordinarily happy that my message can have such an effect on someone. I often don’t think much of this journey that I’ve been on, but I know that my journey is one of trials and struggles — and thus one that I feel the need to share.”
At the TEDx event, Orellana was the second speaker of the day, so he had the opportunity to watch the other eight talks. One particularly struck a chord with him; a talk about mental health and suicide. Orellana says he hopes to incorporate these tough but crucial topics into his own speeches in the future.
TEDx reaffirmed Orellana’s love for public speaking; inspiring even one person makes it worth it for him. He also hopes to influence the way people think about life. “If we move forward in a loving and righteous direction we will find success and fulfillment,” he says. “We are not a fluke, our existence is not unsubstantial, we are not here on some sort of probation — our existence is absolutely fundamental. Success is always just around the corner.”
By Leah Veldhuisen ’19
Last year’s Big Idea competition highlighted the work of many talented CC students. FlyPhone won the competition, and the six then-seniors are still pursuing their startup idea here in Colorado Springs. The company designed technology to pair cell phone cameras with drones as a hands-free mode of adventure filming, and was recently featured in Denver’s 5280 magazine, in an article titled “Where to Find Colorado’s Next Tech Hubs.”
But things don’t always go exactly as planned when it comes to starting a tech business. Dan Keogh ’17, one of the six FlyPhone creators, says the company is having to make adjustments and must be nimble to succeed. Keogh explains that FlyPhone is currently focusing on two things: integrating their software into hardware other than drones; and fundraising. “Over the summer we did a lot of great work both developing our software as well as implementing it onto drones,” he says, “and were able to capture some pretty awesome shots.” Despite these positive developments, “murky” conditions around patenting and high barriers to entry for the drone industry have necessitated a change for FlyPhone. Keogh explains that the group is now targeting markets that are more accessible than the drone industry, and they have modified the FlyPhone software so that it’s applicable to a broader a wider range of organizations.
With all these changes, the FlyPhone creators are now hoping to make their first sale to an organization. Keogh says they hope to make the initial sale to a group in Colorado Springs that could use the FlyPhone software as a training tool. “In many ways, a lot of our software development is done,” Keogh explains, “and we’re looking for the right match between the value FlyPhone can bring to an organization, and what that organization is willing to pay for that value.” Despite all the changes FlyPhone has undergone since its start in 2015, the group has made itself into part of the burgeoning Colorado Springs tech community, and hopes to continue the develop of their company and software.
Middle schooler Sydney Murphy took the phrase “embracing the concepts” to a whole new level during her summer course. Holding a baby goat, she got up close with the farm animal, which was brought to her Caring for Critters class for a petting and milking demonstration.
Throughout the class, co-taught by Scott Purdy ’18 MAT, CC Master of Arts in Teaching student, and Brittni Darras as part of CC Gifted and Talented+ summer program, middle schoolers explored a wide range of research and got to apply their knowledge on visits to local animal shelters and rescues. Students also learned about local and global impacts of animal conservation and treatment, and developed their own action plan to address problems locally with our animal population.
Caring for Critters was just one of dozens of courses in the GT+ program that brought elementary, middle, and high school students to campus for three weeks this summer. Now in its 42nd year, the program is designed for students entering first through tenth grades with offerings to challenge their intellectual and creative abilities.
The program also brings to campus teachers who are experienced and skilled in working with gifted children and who are well educated in their fields. Plus, it provides an opportunity for CC’s Master of Teaching students to work directly with students and expert teachers in the classroom; each teacher has a CC graduate teaching assistant to help provide the individualized attention that gifted children need.
“I love to share these tools and then model for the MAT students those same strategies with the summer program students. It’s my goal to send them off as a new teacher with as many items in their toolkit as possible,” says Tiffany Hawk, teacher in the GT+ program of working with the master’s students. Hawk co-taught a course titled Farm to Fork for ninth and tenth graders with CC MAT student Savannah Teeple ’18 MAT.
Throughout the class, students explored local and global issues surrounding food scarcity, waste, and ethical practices of sustainability of food sources around the world. Students also studied real-life struggles of various cultures and developed plans to address issues that affect international citizens.
The students spent three days working directly with seven Habitat for Humanity families building and planting backyard raised garden beds in the Crestone Peak Trail neighborhood in Colorado Springs. Students also provided seeds, student-created recipes using crops from the gardens, and care instructions with the beds so that homeowners could put their new gardens to good use.
“When we are able to open our minds and explore the connections between global and local issues, we begin to see that there are so many experiences that bond us throughout the world,” Hawk says of developing the concept for the Farm to Fork class. “The beauty of this program is that students are able to experience the impact of their action. They are making community partnerships and experiencing the power of collaboration. They learn that they can make a difference.”
Hawk says she hopes the MAT students also gain practical knowledge throughout the program. “It is my hope that they take ownership and embrace the power of reflection and taking risks. My emphasis is to remain flexible with instruction and allow students to take you, as the teacher, in different paths to explore what they want to learn within our course objectives.”
This summer, 25 students from four different area colleges and universities came together to solve challenges facing our community. In its third year, the Quad Innovation Project Summer Intensive brought together 10 CC students, along with recent graduates and peers from the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, the United States Air Force Academy, and Pikes Peak Community College to partner with local organizations in developing scalable, innovative solutions to real-world problems.
Quad Partnership Director Jake Eichengreen says he was surprised and impressed by the team dynamics. “The program this year was tremendously diverse, with a broad and inclusive representation of different academic tracts, ages, life experiences, races, and backgrounds,” he says. “Each of our teams was comprised of members from multiple schools. For many of our participants, it was their first time working closely together with students from such radically different backgrounds, and it went phenomenally.”
For example, a team comprised of a CC junior majoring in political science, a 25-year veteran of the U.S. Special Forces pursuing an associate’s degree in science, and a retired army private who just finished his third degree in advanced manufacturing at Pikes Peak Community College were working together to build an urban farm.
“I was pushed out of my comfort zone and challenged to think bigger, broader, and from multiple perspectives,” says Abbey Lew ’18, who worked on a project addressing food insecurity in the community. “I was inspired by the many community members who came to speak to us as well as by my passionate peers, all of whom are dedicated to bringing about positive change in the Colorado Springs community.”
Thomas Gifford ’18 worked with his team to reduce peak energy demand in the region by developing a new format for utility billing. He says working toward a common goal was a valuable part of the program. “Not only did I gain confidence in my own abilities, but also in the idea that I can truly contribute towards solving a large and complicated issue when working with the right people,” he says.
Thomas received a job offer from a startup called Maxletics, which he accepted and where he’ll be working for the rest of the summer; he met the company’s founders through the Quad summer program. Along with Gifford, several summer participants interviewed with and/or obtained employment with businesses or organizations that visited the class as part of the program.
Lew says she and her teammates are excited to continue pursuing their project and are currently working with various community businesses and organizations to develop a food-focused comic book that aims to increase food literacy among children.
“I’ve gained more entrepreneurial experience, learned how I work with different types of individuals, discovered the vast number of preexisting resources and opportunities in Colorado Springs, and have seen how seemingly small ideas can lead to bigger actions and impacts,” says Lew. “The most rewarding part of Quad was the connections and relationships I formed that continue beyond the end of the program.”
“My group was working on a project centered around sharing the stories of people experiencing houslessness,” says Emma Finn ’20. “It was both informative and eye opening to hear their stories and begin to understand the deep rooted stigmas that span throughout Colorado Springs and the rest of the country. I think the most rewarding part of the program will come when we get our project up and running.” She says her team intentionally begin using the term “houseless” instead of “homeless” after discussion with one community member who conveyed that, while it may be unconventional, he did have a “home.” What he was missing was a house. “After this encounter, we shaped our project around what people experiencing houslessness actually need, not what others may think they need,” she says.
It’s a program that not only benefits participants, but also the broader community. “The program offers the community access to the kind of entrepreneurial talent and young leaders capable of building new value here in a variety of ways throughout the community,” Eichengreen says. All six of the Quad Project teams chose to build projects to address major issues facing the community – food insecurity, homelessness, and peak energy consumption. “The community is the true beneficiary of the sustainable, scalable concepts our students built that open new opportunities to the homeless, stimulate demand for fresh food in food deserts, and reduce peak energy consumption,” he says.
More than 75 community members attended demonstration day in late June to hear students present their projects. Here’s a full list of the projects students developed to tackle community challenges this summer:
Stuff Comics – (CC, PPCC, UCCS)
Creating superhero comics that excite kids about healthy eating.
Finalizing funding, printing, distribution, and content partners; Committed to 1,000 copy beta version launching in September.
300 Energy – (CC, UCCS)
Creating improved formats for energy bills to encourage customers to reduce demand during peak energy usage times, while also saving users money. A bill design under consideration for further development with Colorado Springs Utilities.
Lift Me Up – (CC, PPCC, UCCS)
A philanthropic ride-sharing program for those in need. The team has secured a service provider partner and raised $1,000 towards a beta launch.
Apical Horizons – (CC, PPCC)
Building urban farms to produce food and housing for college students in need. The team identified a possible pilot site and is finalizing a modular, replicable design.
Strive – (CC, PPCC, UCCS)
A project to amplify the stories of the houseless to improve access to mental health resources. The team has identified initial houseless participants and mentors.
Avium – (CC, PPCC, UCCS, USAFA)
Creating engaging education to stimulate demand for healthy food choices in food deserts. The group’s first teaching dinner will be Aug. 5; they have secured a chef/instructor, food, venue, and marketing.
This spring, ten Bridge Scholars embarked on a trek through the steamy tropical jungles of Colombia in search of a lost ancient city. It was the first trip of its kind: Taking the outdoor education experience to an international location. When they returned, they brought back much more than the physical mettle they earned on miles and miles of mountain hiking (though the physical aspect was certainly grueling).
“I didn’t realize how much more we’d get than a hiking trip,” says Dylan Compton ’19, after returning from the eight-day trip to the jungles of Colombia. “We had the cultural aspect and learning from our local guides, supporting and encouraging one another, and the physical aspect. I do think everyone underestimated how much we should physically prepare for this,” Compton says.
The trip took place over Spring Break 2017 and was a collaboration between the Office of Outdoor Education, the Butler Center, the Office of International Programs, and the Academic Dean’s Office. The participants were first-year and sophomore students in the Bridge Scholars program, which serves as a gateway into college life for first-generation students, who applied for the opportunity to travel to Colombia over Spring Break.
Throughout the trip, students got to explore and experience the local culture, learn about its rich history, and develop their own leadership style and skillset. All participants completed CC’s Ahlberg Leadership Institute Backcountry Level I Training curriculum throughout Blocks 5 and 6. Now, they’re qualified to lead fellow students on Outdoor Recreation Committee and New Student Orientation Priddy Experience trips.
“Our goal is to help these students develop as leaders,” says David Crye, assistant director of the Office of Outdoor Education and one of the trip guides. The trip was the culmination of a two-year process initiated by the Office of Outdoor Education to make CC’s outdoor experiences more inclusive.
“The college has had several conversations about the outdoor culture at CC, outdoor education, how to continue to engage a spectrum of people with different levels of experience, and with different ideas about outdoor culture,” says Paul Buckley, director of the Butler Center and assistant vice president, who led the trip along with Crye. “This is an ongoing collaboration; we are always in pursuit of ways to make these (outdoor education) opportunities more inclusive.”
Compton says he experienced the trip both as a participant and also through the lens of being a future trip leader. “It’s interesting to recognize how much the group dynamic can affect what people get out of a trip, and learning how to foster that positive dynamic.”
It’s a positive dynamic that can make a difference for students as soon as they arrive at CC. NSO trips are important in developing students’ initial connection to the campus community. “The investment to develop this more diverse group of leaders, who also have a keen interest and ability to help nurture an inclusive experience for those new students, the importance of that can’t be overstated,” Buckley says.
For many of the participants, it was their first time traveling out of the country; for students like Karina Grande ’20, the success of the jungle trek has empowered her to explore other travel opportunities.
“After going to Colombia, I feel like I could travel anywhere,” she says. “I’m starting to make a list of where I want to go; it made it possible to think that I can actually go outside the US and travel. I’m trying to take advantage of every opportunity to travel abroad and experience the outdoors abroad.” Next up for Grande is this summer’s trip to Iceland with the Office of Outdoor Education. She says trips like the one to Colombia not only built her confidence, but also strengthen relationships with other students.
“You get a different connection with people in the outdoors. You’re not tied to the internet, or your phones. My favorite part was connecting with one another, the talks we had over dinner. In the span of a week we became a little family together,” Grande says.
Buckley says experiencing a trip like this creates strong bonds among participants. “It helped me to understand firsthand how meaningful it can be to develop relationships with people on these trips. Having the shared experience creates a unique connection. That’s special.”
They also got a taste of the local culture, with guides preparing locally sourced meals for them at the camps where they stopped each night along the trail.
“It was better than what I cook at home, and this was out in the jungle,” Crye says. “Fish, fresh juice, plantains; it was very local, we ate whatever what the locals would eat. And everyone would try things. The group was awesome – they were very open to experience it all.”
Grande says she embraced local meals at the end of each long day of hiking. “After the six hours on the trail, we got to have coconut rice and plantains and fresh fruit, the food was really great,” she says.
The long hours of hiking were often followed by group discussions about the region’s culture and history; Buckley says it was also a chance to think intentionally about the definition of “the outdoors” and how we engage with it. “It doesn’t have to be extreme, it doesn’t have to be expensive. It is about the relationship between the environment and people. We were thinking about how to nurture this interest in the outdoors for a range of students, students with a range of experience in relation to the outdoors; these student leaders will now help their peers to engage with their environment differently while they’re here at CC,” he says.
“We’re excited to see how this ties in to the greater goal of the college to make sure our experiences are welcoming and open to all,” Crye says. “Making sure we have knowledgeable, experienced leaders that reflect the diversity of our student body will help ensure there are different perspectives on every trip.”
Buckley says he will continue to foster support for this new program, and would gladly lead another trip. “I’m all in with this partnership. I strive to facilitate the cultural exchange and to help the leaders think about how they themselves will help facilitate a more inclusive experience for other students. That’s my passion point, that’s why I do what I do.”
For those who haven’t experienced a trip like this, or an opportunity to get outside their comfort zone and test physical and mental limits, Grande says, don’t be discouraged. She learned she’s stronger than she thought she was.
“A lot of it is not just physical strength, it’s mental strength. If anyone’s hesitant about not being able to do it, don’t worry about your physical abilities. It’s all mental strength, and you’ll acquire that on the trip. It will make you a stronger person. For us, it was a shared intensity; and we were in it together.”
Photos courtesy of Padah Vang ’19.
The Public Interest Fellowship Program acts as a “matchmaker” between Colorado College students who have an interest in the social sector and nonprofit organizations that are doing innovative work in the public interest.
PIFP offers paid summer and yearlong fellowships, which give CC students and graduates meaningful opportunities to explore possible career directions, gain practical work experience, and have an impact on the social issues of their state and communities. At the same time, PIFP partner organizations gain access to bright, highly competent, and energetic CC students, who enable the organizations to increase their capacity to improve the lives of others.
PIFP sponsored its first cohort of fellows in 2004, and over the years has placed 346 fellows with 76 organizations. Through its yearlong program alone, PIFP has employed close to 5 percent of CC’s graduating class during the past several years. Approximately 23 percent of the PIFP fellows are hired to stay on with their organizations after their fellowship terms are complete. Congratulations to the latest class of PIFP fellows!
2017-18 Yearlong Fellowships
Emilia Delgado Heinz, ACLU of Colorado
Samantha Saccomanno, Bell Policy Center
Katasha Nail Dasilva, Caring for Colorado
Terrell Blei, CO Consumer Health Initiative
Zoe Gibson, CO Education Initiative
Zijing (Michael) Wu, CO Fiscal Institute
Emelie Frojen, Conservation Colorado
Emma Kepes, Denver Scholarship Foundation
Livia Abuls, DSST Public Schools
Natasha Riveron, Innovations in Aging Collaborative
Robin Berk, ICAST
Cassandra Cohen, Mental Health Colorado
Karolina Szymanska, OMNI Institute
2017 Summer Fellowships
Morgen Seim, ACLU of Colorado
Mary Rose Donahue, The Arc Pikes Peak Region
Lindsey Salhus, Atlas Preparatory School
Julia Gledhill , Bayaud Enterprises
Siqi Wei, Catamount Institute
Marcela Onate-Trules, Chinook Fund
Elena Perez, City of Colorado Springs (Department of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services)
Carina Rodriguez Jaimes, CO Dept of Health Care Policy and Financing
Elianna Clayton, CO Department of Health Care Policy and Financing
Jared Russell, CO Department of Health Care Policy and Financing
Manuel Meraz, CO League of Charter Schools
Catherine Braza, Greenway Fund/Fountain Creek Watershed District
Emma Kerr, The Gill Foundation
Olivia Berlin, *NCSL Communications Division
Ethan Greenberg, *NCSL Education Program
Jack Gurr, OMNI Institute
Willa Rentel, One Colorado Education Fund
Lily Weissgold, Palmer Land Trust
Valeria Peralta, ProgressNow Colorado Education
Marlee Akerson, Volunteers for Outdoor CO
*National Conference of State Legislators
By Montana Bass ’18
This season has been a spectacular one for CC’s Speech and Debate team, with Russel Skorina ’18 and Victor Torres ’18 competing in the national competition, and CC’s Mock Trial teams, which had both the A and B teams (similar to the varsity and junior varsity team structure) make it to the regional competition. This is the first year that the B team has made it past the regional competition the national qualifier Opening Round Championship Series, along with the A team, a season made sweeter by Cole Simon ’20 winning an “Outstanding Attorney Award,” and the “Outstanding Witness Award,” a major achievement at this level of competition as only a small number are awarded.
Speech Coach Sarah Hinkle, who also works as the head acting coach for the Mock Trial teams, says students’ dedication paid off this year. “It takes a lot of time to get to this level of competitive success,” Hinkle says of her students. “We can’t openly recruit top-notch, competitive high school speakers because we can’t offer scholarships like publicly funded universities do. This is a club setting, but we are asking for scholarship-level commitment. It’s just your word saying ‘I’m not going to let my peers down.’”
CC’s Mock Trial teams are coached by alumna and 4th Judicial District Court Judge Regina Walter ’80, who founded the program four years ago. CC has sent a team to the national qualifying round every year since, and this year sent two teams to the national qualifying round for the first time.
Even with the end of the season, Torres says he’s not planning on slowing down. This past season was his first with the speech and debate team and he went straight to nationals in the Prose and Program Oral Interpretation events with Hinkle’s help. Once he decided to commit to speech this year, says Torres, “I gave as much dedication as possible, especially to my interpretation events. We worked on it together. Sarah was the big player in finding the pieces and I was the actor.”
Making it to nationals was a shock and though Torres did not place there, it only fueled his ambition for next year. “I witnessed some fantastic things at nationals. I’m reading a lot of books to figure out what I want to do next year. I’ll meet with Sarah over the summer so I can start out the year and hit it hard. I hope to make it to nationals with more events, but even if I just qualify, at least I’ll get to go.”
For the students who have seen such success under Hinkle’s tutelage, however, the commitment is immensely rewarding. Wynter Haley Scott ’18 has worked closely with Hinkle throughout her three years in mock trial, developing her already-solid acting skills and preparing for a career in law. “I wanted to incorporate skills I learned in acting into something that’s more of a career and that I would enjoy,” says Scott. “It’s really easy to see how acting skills translate into being a witness, since you’re taking on a persona. But it’s so important for attorneys, too. What wins trials isn’t the evidence, it’s how well you come across as believable and unbiased.”
For Simon, winner of the Outstanding Witness Award, the acting skills he developed with Hinkle and their incorporation into strategy he developed with new B team coach Ansel Carpenter ’16, his first season was already a stand out. “It was a total dream,” says Carpenter of watching students who had no previous mock trial experience excel so quickly. They had a depth of talent that not only gave them a solid A team (or varsity level squad), but also to have strong performance with the B team. “I feel really lucky that we had such a great group with good interpersonal dynamics. That, the team’s skill and their hard work are the main reasons that this B Team, which isn’t necessarily our most experienced students, became the most successful we have seen at CC.”
By Montana Bass ’18
During the final weeks of Block 8, Naomi Van der Land ’17 and Alejandro Perez ’17 have been spending time at the Fine Arts Center. They’re working with five high school students and a local graffiti artist who goes by FUSE, collaborating on an art project that will soon be on display in the halls of Bemis School of Art.
It’s the extension of a long-time collaboration between Bemis and Colorado Springs School District 11’s program for at-risk high school students, students who have not succeeded in a traditional school environment. “This project gets them interested, gets them engaged,” says Tony Acosta, a special education teacher with District 11. “We’re able to get them out of their comfort zones, out of the classroom. It develops their coping skills.”
The impact for the high school participants goes far beyond developing their artistic talents. “I hope it involves all of the kids and that they feel like they’ve really accomplished something in creating a piece of art,” says Perez, a CC studio art major who had met FUSE a few years ago at a previous FAC exhibit opening. “It’s important to give younger kids different ways they can express themselves. It’s been super relaxed and positive.”
Social worker Devra Allen adds that it helps build confidence, “if they can venture into the unknown here as part of the art project, do something that makes them scared and succeed, it builds their confidence to think, ‘Yeah, I can do this.’ And for kids who have attendance issues in school, this gives them something to show up for and to be a part of.”
The team is spray-painting the mural onto a piece of wood salvaged from a former FAC theatre set. This means they’re working outside, in open air, and have been battling the elements of spring Colorado Springs weather in order to get the project done. Despite challenges, after just three painting sessions over the course of a few weeks, the students are nearly done with the project, which will be a mural with the word “BEMIS” in graffiti-style lettering. Each student submitted sketches of their personal ideas to FUSE, and the artist incorporated different elements into one plan.
High schooler Amy VonSeht says being part of the mural’s creation helped her embrace the unknown. “I’ve never done graffiti before; it’s a good experience. It’s something new to try. It’s very expressive,” she says, “I’ve done other classes and projects at Bemis, but this is the biggest.”
Some of the students feel hesitant to paint, nervous they’ll make a mistake. “I don’t want to mess it up. I’ve never done graffiti before, but I draw,” says Dominic Makinano, another high school participant. But the students are supportive, encouraging one another, “Just do it!” he adds as VonSeht considers picking up a paint can after Makinano is done with his portion, “I’m still afraid, but I just do it!”
FUSE does not just show the kids how to paint in the context of the project, he also teaches them about the history of graffiti as an art form, one he has been involved in for over 30 years. “I started when I was young, and I didn’t have a mentor then. The best way to learn is to get with someone who’s been doing it a long time,” he says. Now at the FAC, “Everyone gets painting time. I let them decide – with graffiti, the decision making is on the fly, it’s spontaneous.”
“It’s about giving them choices,” says Tara Thomas, executive director of education at the FAC. “Because of various issues, they don’t have a lot of choice. This gives them that freedom.”
The project provides students a freedom to express their own creativity in ways they may not otherwise have an opportunity, to thrive using art to build relationships and self-confidence.
The completed mural is scheduled to be unveiled Monday, May 22, and will remain on display in the Bemis School of Art stairway.