Liberal Arts faculty member Tim Rumage leads students in an installation on Lido Beach to engage the community in a discussion about sea level rise.
A Meaningful Education

Art changes perspectives and lives. That’s a lofty statement as we witness more and more art programs removed from education. Yet if you look back in history, art has always been an outlet for cultural, political, religious, and social statement. Artists are typically caring, passionate people, who often use their talent as a means of self-expression, opinion, and awareness building. Our students (and faculty) embody these attributes, which are in fact fundamental characteristics of Millennials. Many conflicting reports have been issued about this complex generation, but one thing that is inherent among this group is that they care about their community, the environment, and service work.

As artists and Millennials, it makes sense that Ringling students would be eager to contribute to community and social initiatives that matter to them. There are countless opportunities made available for our students to “make a difference”, starting with our impressive department of volunteers.

Director of Volunteer Services Rachel Levey-Baker states that “Last year, over 40% of the student population volunteered with more than 70 partners in over 150 project or events to benefit local and global communities.”

The Ringling Collaboratory offers every student an opportunity to work with corporations they value and on projects of their choice. Some instructors weave these missions into their curriculum, providing social and enviro-friendly projects as part of their course assignments.

This year we are pleased to highlight a few of these projects. Their value reaches far beyond the obvious goal of performing good deeds and serving the community. They provide our students with opportunities to work with external clients, encourage collaboration with students outside of their majors, help develop presentation skills, allow students to mentor others, and build awareness about causes that matter to our students.

Liberal Arts and Sarasota Beaches

Of the lower 48 states, none has more coastline than Florida. With beaches as our number one tourist attraction, and a multi-billion dollar commodity, sea level rise has serious consequences to our community. So what does art and design have to contribute to environmental science? Everything, according to instructor Tim Rumage. Two of his classes, Ecology of Water and Environmental Ethics and Ecological Beliefs, were involved in the Rise and Run project: an art installation focused on sea level rise in the Sarasota area for the relatively near future of 2030 and 2050. Sea level discussion is often focused on the rise—six feet by 2030 and two to four feet by 2050. But the “run”, which is how far the water will move inland, is typically ignored. Tim and his students flagged the current high tide line, and then flagged the projected tide line of 2030 literally on the beach at Lido Key. Rumage’s intent was not to tell people what to think or do, but rather invite a conversation.

“What was also interesting about the project was how students and volunteers didn’t really approach anyone to slam them with this bad news about the beach,” says Computer Animation sophomore, Alyssa Concannon. “It was the curious beach-goers that came up to the display of poles and windmills with questions that allowed us to share the information with them.”

Rumage was pleased with the enthusiasm and receptiveness of his students and the overall reaction of the community to the Rise and Run project. “The project showed the importance of art and design interacting  with science to make science more accessible to the public and that artists and designers can, and should, play a leadership role on the critical issues of our time.”

Ringling College and Education Foundation of Sarasota County

When Education Foundation’s Executive Director Jennifer Vigne first approached Ringling College to be involved in their up and coming Hackathon, our first question was obviously What’s a hackathon? A hackathon is an event that runs over several days, in which large groups of people collaborate to develop a computer program. In this case, Sarasota County students aged 13–18 met over a weekend last October to concept and design an app that is meaningful to the community. They worked with mentors to help the students think outside the box, and used the mentors’ expertise to guide the students successfully. Ringling College Interim Head of Graphic Design Jeff Bleitz and Ringling College Digital Designer, Andrea Cannistra (Graphic and Interactive Communication, ’06), served as a mentors in this year’s Hackathon, and Jennifer Mumford Brady, the Director of the Ringling College Design Center, served as a guest judge.

Commenting on her experience as a mentor, Cannistra said she quickly homed in on each of her group member’s strengths and by the end of the weekend, they had not only a working app, but the winning app, which connects teens looking for work in their region and businesses looking to hire.

“I was surprised by how quickly the students picked up the technology and how quickly they all came out of their shells,” Cannistra says. “By the end of it, the students were giving full presentations for the entire Hackathon, answering questions on the fly, and coming up with business plans.”

She went on to say that the students felt it was their duty to solve problems for other people their age, and to ensure their generation had a bright future. “I was very inspired by our students. They showed me that if you really want something, you can accomplish it,” proving that even mentors can be mentored.

Motion Design and All Faiths Food Bank

For the past two years Ringling’s Motion Design juniors have worked with All Faiths Food Bank to create and produce Public Service Announcements to help raise awareness of hunger in our schools and our community. Department Head Ed Cheetham believes it’s crucial for his students to understand how they can use their artistic skills to make a difference in the world.

“They are familiar with how motion design can help promote companies and products, but they need to see how they can use their motion design talents to promote social responsibility,” Cheetham says. He expands on the value of hands-on interactions with actual food bank clients. “Students have been told about the large number of people who use a food bank’s services, but when those numbers transform into an individual who is thanking them for carrying food to their vehicle, it changes everything.”

The focus, dedication, and outcomes of our students’ talents are impressive. But it is the complete Ringling College experience that ripples out from them, into the community, and around our planet. Ed Cheetham summarizes this well:

“The education of the entire student includes developing compassion, understanding, and empathy. These students are blessed with the opportunity to receive such a high quality education. They need to remember that there are many others that are not nearly as fortunate. They can use their talents to make a positive impact in their world.”

By Lisa Moody