CAM’s Emerging Creatives Dive In

CAM students immersed themselves in the 2017 a2ru Emerging Creatives Student Summit in Florida. The summit took place on the University of Florida with the central theme of “Water: New Directions Through Art and Science.” Student dove into discussions and hands-on collaborative projects that brought together art and science to solve a real-world global issues.

CAM students Anna Lawrence, Jordan Leone, Olivia Shaw and Nikolai Sumcad represented the college well and blogged about their experience.

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Anna Lawrence:

When Storm asked me back in December if I would be willing to attend a conference in Florida fully paid for by the school, my first thought was a very sarcastic “No, why would I do that?” Of course I said yes! I felt very honored that I was asked and spent the next two hours dancing around my room and telling my mom all about it. As February got closer, I researched the conference itself and the chosen topic, and started to begin wondering why I along with three other music students had been chosen to go. I thought, “I know nothing about water conservation” and after getting the responses from the students from across the country I’d been paired to work with at the conference, I was pretty intimidated. They were all inter-disciplinary or STEM based majors who were already passionate about water issues, so I definitely felt like I would end up being the odd ball in the group. Regardless, I was counting down the days and couldn’t wait to find out what the experience would be like.

Once we got to Florida, I immediately realized that a large number of the students from the same schools didn’t know each other. When Olivia Shaw, Jordan Leone, Nikolai Sumcad and I got off our plane in Gainesville, we ran into two of the students who would also be attending the conference. They were both from University of Michigan, but really didn’t know each other well. They knew each other’s names and had an idea of each other’s majors, but had no other connection. (Weird coming from the perspective of a UCD student who talks to her peers who were also there, on a regular basis.) That became the theme of the conference. One of the girls in my assigned group came from Arizona State University and didn’t even know that other kids from her school were at the conference until halfway through the second day. She had no idea who they were either. This made me appreciate the close knit connections that we form at UCD, and reminded me that all of my intro teachers were right: networking IS everything! (Thanks Storm, Benom and Chris!)

As students, we were challenged to create a project that would intend to tackle one or many of the water issues that society faces today. My group chose to create a resource that allows college students from across the country to organize student groups and work interdisciplinarily. SHIFT: Science Heightened by Imagination Furthering Tomorrow. We wanted to give every day students the opportunity that we had at the conference. By offering an organization that will connect scientists with creatives, we may be able to get one step further in bettering the way we conserve water.

Through a2ru, I was able to learn a lot more about the environment, water usage, current water crises in the country and world, and what the scientific community is talking about. (For example, there was a panelist who talked about the Flint water crisis. I realized how much I didn’t actually know about it!) I’d never considered myself to be someone who was very knowledgeable about water, aside from knowing I should be drinking more of it than I do on a regular basis. I loved the panels that were organized for this conference, because everyone who spoke had a unique background and take on water issues. Going into the trip, I expected more scientists to be speaking and for all of the information to be way over my head. I was proven wrong every time we sat down for a panel. I really enjoyed all of the art that was shown through video, photography, and storytelling. This conference definitely opened up my mind to the different ways we as society can approach interdisciplinary issues.

I was very honored to be able to attend, and am so grateful for the connections I made and knowledge that I’ve gained.

Jordan Leone

Last week, I attended the a2ru conference at the University of Florida in Gainesville. A2ru is the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities, and this specific conference was called the ‘Creative Student Summit’ and was focused on interdisciplinary solutions to water issues. The students attending ranged from undergraduates to PhD students in various areas of study. My group had an MFA student who had gotten her undergraduate degree in natural resource management, a BFA student, a product design trend student, and a drawing/geology student. At first, I felt very out of place as a music business student because I wasn’t quite sure how my skills fit into a group that was so heavily focused on visual arts. However, it ended up working out, because it forced us to create a solution/project that integrated each of our areas of interest.

The first night, a PhD student and a professor from UF led a workshop on design thinking. It was adapted from the Stanford design school and got all of us to jump right into the critical thinking process. I was extremely inspired after this workshop, because it forced me to think in a different way than I do in my day-to-day work. The process was interactive, collaborative, and required us to suspend judgment on any ideas during the brainstorming process. This design thinking process is something that I will go back to time and time again when tackling new projects, because I noticed how much I tend to fall back on the same process too often. It was a great experience for me to be pushed out of my comfort zone right away, only for it to immediately open my eyes to a new way of thinking. This workshop also set the tone for the whole conference, and helped me get over all apprehensions of not “fitting in” because I wasn’t strictly a scientist or an artist.

My biggest takeaway from the conference was how vital interdisciplinary conversation and collaboration are to both personal intellectual growth and in solving complex issues. I personally grew so much as a person from attending this conference, because it opened my eyes to a new way of thinking and collaborating entirely. A common theme among the different panels and presentations was that there are many different ways of interpreting the world, and science is just one of them. In order to work towards solving complex issues that require community action, we must tap into both scientific and creative ways of thinking, and understand that the two are not mutually exclusive. For instance, climate change was obviously a big talking point throughout most of the conference. This issue is more than just scientists inventing physical solutions to better the environment; it also involves a paradigm shift among society to better take care of our planet. In order to be able to energize that paradigm shift, we must create solutions that involve scientific thinking, creative thinking, and everything in between. Conferences like a2ru inspire the emerging influencers to collaborate with each other, but the challenge now lies in creating a platform for this kind of collaboration to become commonplace in Universities and beyond.

Olivia Shaw

The Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities was an immersive experience that challenged students from across the country to design solutions to water crises based on their interdisciplinary bodies of knowledge. Although I didn’t know what to expect upon my arrival at the University of Florida, where the conference was held, I was left with a profound respect for the amazing ideas that can spring forth when artists and scientists collaborate.

We spent three days in small groups designing various projects that addressed water problems throughout the world. Some groups focused on access to clean water in impoverished communities; others focused on a more broad call to action to improve the health of our oceans; others suggested ways to increase public engagement with environmental legislation. Every group, however, was humbled by the knowledge that the future of the environment, and by extension humanity, is in our hands.

My group focused on issues surrounding toxic algae blooms throughout the world. Algae blooms result in the ‘suffocation’ of ecosystems below the surface when the algae becomes so thick that all sunlight is blocked and the balance of oxygen in the water is thrown off. We took this message and related it back to a metaphor of someone’s lungs failing to get oxygen, culminating in a presentation that relayed the cause, effect, and prevention mechanisms of toxic algal blooms in a thoughtful way.

The conference featured an abundance of talented panelists ranging from environmental scientists to performance artists. One of the most recurring and memorable teachings that arose was that in order to communicate a message in an impactful way, one must utilize the power of storytelling. Empathy, interest, and relevance can all be achieved by crafting a powerful story that communicates a vital message with authenticity and strength.

Perhaps the biggest lesson that I internalized at A2RU is that more people need to be networking outside of their disciplines. Although it is comfortable to discuss pressing world issues with similar minds and familiar circles, real growth happens when people from extremely different backgrounds and bodies of knowledge put their heads and hearts together. The future will be nurtured by the messages that are created by scientists, artists, and politicians working on the same team.

Back in Denver and on Auraria Campus, my mind buzzes with inspiration at the thought of how I can cultivate interdisciplinary communication within my own community. Not only would collaborations across colleges foster the formation of a wealth of new ideas, but it would also provide students and faculty an empowering network of colleagues that has the potential to last a lifetime. I look forward to sharing the mission of A2RU with my peers in order to inspire interdisciplinary work at CU Denver.

Nikolai Sumcad

You never really know what kind of people you might meet in art conventions.

At least, that’s what the people who go to them regularly say. The range of personalities is always a delightful mix and everyone’s various backgrounds tend to spur insightful conversation amongst attendees. And for the first time in my college career, I finally get to experience things for myself!

The a2ru conference is a brilliant way to get scientific and creative processes work together to create solutions for the world’s pressing issues. The topic for this year happened to be “Water” and the various challenges we as living creatures on this planet face as a whole. Coming from a third world country, water has always been rationed and most people learn different ways to save water as much as possible. I kept my experiences in mind as I got ready for the first day of the conference on Wednesday, February 8th.

To help the students get started, the first evening panelists conducted a workshop in “Design Thinking”. The idea is that human-centered processes are what leads to innovation, beginning with empathy and thinking about the needs of the other. We started by getting to know the target audience, in this case the person sitting next to us, and using a five-step process to improve his/her personal hydration system. After hilariously bad drawings and some personal prying, everyone ended up creating a solution to the problems our partners dealt with regarding their water bottles. I was able to think of an elastic water bottle net with a computer chip that tracks water level, location, and an alert for hydration through a mobile app. I didn’t think it was that innovative but my partner, Jordan, was really happy with the result. She gleefully shared the idea to everyone else. It was definitely flattering, and it made me realize how important it is how the target audience is a critical source of inspiration for the end result.

The next day started off with a round of incredible panelists who have already contributed so much in helping people see the importance of water. We got to talk to them after the panel, and it’s always so refreshing to be able to access people who have done such great work.

Meeting my groupmates started off a bit awkward. I’d like to blame it on the lack of icebreakers by the conference, but I may have just gotten used to the dynamic of being a student in the music program at UCD. MEIS students are constantly reminded of the importance of networking in the industry, so everyone tends to be equipped with a level of gregariousness to get a relationship going. This not being always true with other majors, my attempt at stepping away from my introversion was met with blank stares and silence from a hydrologist and two graphic designers.

We stepped out and tried to immerse ourselves in the more natural parts of Gainesville in the hopes of getting ideas from its environment. We had a total of two days, Thursday and Friday, to create a solution around the five or so topics we were given to work with. Narrowing it down to “Access to Clean Water – Civil Rights”, we wanted our idea to not be an infographic but to be a tangible creation directed to local citizens. After throwing around our own experiences with water issues and a few butting of heads, we decided on an app that allows the user to hypothetically adjust a city’s annual municipal budget in relation to its water infrastructure. The goal is to let the user be aware of how much their city’s water infrastructure affects their overall lifestyle, including future health, if more or less money is allocated to it.

On Friday, the a2ru group went to the nearby wetlands park that also served as a sewage facility for Gainesville. The place was filled with beautiful birds and swamp animals that lived peacefully in that ecosystem. We were reminded of the symbiosis the animals had with the vegetation and bodies of water and how it directly affects our lifestyle with clean water that we forget is a luxury.

The rest of day was allotted to the surprisingly large amount of research my group had to do to get our app going. The visual artists worked on the user interface and design of the app while I dove in intense research with our hydrologist. There wasn’t really anything ‘musical’ going into the project when talking about drawing from our different disciplines, and I feel like it could’ve been done if we had more time. Regardless, we kept working until we finally agreed that it was complete for a two day project.

Saturday came and so did the time we had to present our idea, but not before seeing all of the other students’ projects. It was made apparent to me just how creativity mixed with objective facts can produce the most mind-blowing results. One of the groups in particular had an MIT mechanical engineering PhD student and a theater PhD student who created a stage play of just how much water it takes to create all the ingredients of a large-sized pizza. And guess what – it’s 26 bathtubs of water! Their idea is delivering this information in this format will help children learn how much water it takes to create the things they consume in daily life.

After we presented our project, we had people come up to our group wanting to learn more about the app. They shared their ideas on how to use it and how it can immensely help local government and its people. It was wonderful to see everyone casually talking and exchanging such brilliant ideas in one setting, and I believe this will be huge pathway for innovation. a2rU is still young, but I can see it being a vital source of technological and artistic innovation in the years to come.

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