Researchers Utilize the Arts and Humanities to Develop Future Urban Leaders

Written by: CEHD Communications Staff
Post date: January 08, 2010

While many teens spend their summers entranced by video games or hanging out at the local mall, 100 high school students chose to attend school and immerse themselves in core subjects like theater, dance, art and teambuilding exercises.

These young people, part of a group of high-achieving 11th- and 12th-graders with interests in the arts and humanities, took part in the Texas Governor's School in Arts and Humanities for Urban Leadership at Texas A&M University this past June. Students spent three weeks experiencing campus life and attending college-level courses at Texas A&M. "We're looking to develop leadership for our cities in Texas among the young people," says Dr. Patrick Slattery, principal investigator and co-director of the Texas A&M Governor's School. "The unique feature of the program is that we're developing their leadership skills using the arts and humanities as a foundation."

Slattery and co-principal investigators Drs. B. Stephen Carpenter, Norvella Carter and Chance Lewis chose to use the arts as a learning vehicle because the arts provide ways of engaging with the world that other approaches do not. And with fine arts programs absent or available on a limited basis in many schools, students often miss out on valuable lessons. Since the Texas A&M Governor's School is one of only four Governor's School programs in the state, the research team recruited students from across Texas to reflect the state's diverse populations.

"We believe that in order to be a good leader for our cities in Texas, you need to learn to relate to, understand and communicate across differences with multiple constituencies in every city,"

Slattery says. During their stay on campus, the Governor's School students completed four courses, including ethics, design and visual culture, multimedia technology, and multicultural education-all designed to help them make connections between the arts, leadership and the urban environment. On weekends, the students traveled to urban centers to attend cultural events and visit with artists and scholars.

To have the full college experience, students lived in campus dorms and ate at campus dining halls. They learned about Texas A&M through presentations by Corps of Cadets members, Fish Camp counselors, college program representatives, admissions officials and financial aid officers. Alexus Conde, a junior at Round Rock High School, heard about the Texas A&M Governor's School from her cousin. "I love drawing, and I do it as a hobby. I was coming here thinking that I was just going to learn about drawing and performing, but I actually learned a lot more," she says.

This year marks the first year of this three-year program, and the team expects it will only get better. "We spent a lot of time trying to imagine what this program would be from a theoretical and practical standpoint, and we learned so much from the students in how they responded to what we set up," says B. Stephen Carpenter. "Curriculum in our minds is not a fixed set of destinations; it's more a fluid journey that we carry out. And in this fluid journey, we can learn, revise, strengthen and modify the program to improve and empower the experience for all involved." - See more at: