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Center for Academic Service - Learning

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Art builds bridges between students, faculty, and university

Posted on Nov 16, 2012
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Art builds bridges between students, faculty, and university

A First-year Seminar is Bringing the Campus Community Together through Mural Creating

Art can be created by anyone-whether you are a Biology major, Psychology major or the serious Art major. That's what Gloria Eslinger, Assistant Professor in the Visual Arts Department at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, is teaching her students this fall. Eslinger is discovering that art can help ease the transition for first-year college students by connecting them to the university in a unique way.  This semester, she is teaching a course for first-year students called "Cooperative Mural Creation on the UW-Superior Campus". 

The class of 15 is working on two murals for the Office of International Programs (OIP). The center works with international students starting at recruitment, and continues to have contact with them after they are on campus, in order to help them feel that UW-Superior is their "home away from home."  The OIP also offers English as a Second Language courses, and encourages UW-Superior students to participate in study abroad.


A Professor's Vision for Student-University Connections

It all began a few years ago, when Eslinger heard faculty and staff express an interest for murals in buildings. Eslinger decided to create a course-specifically to meet that need.  It has been over four years of student-university work to design murals on campus. Students' artwork from her class can be found in the Admissions office outside each suite, Career Development office suite and the Marcovich Wellness Center.

Eslinger's students' work is well-respected on campus. Tatiana Kornstad, International Student Services Specialist was delighted when Eslinger asked if her class could design the center murals.  The fact that the office had been selected as a potential site radiated excitement among other staff as well.  Danielle Severin, University Services Associate of the office, responded to the mural offer with, "I think this is a big honor…It will be artwork that represents 'us' specifically."


An Experiential Learning Experience

For students, this course is an experiential learning opportunity. Their course objectives include learning how to reflect a blend of their personal voice/experience and group dynamics-while addressing the needs expressed by the OIP.  Students in the class are divided into two teams, and each team will be creating a mural. Teamwork is an important part of mural-making. By working with a partnering site, they will be able to develop an even deeper understanding of how murals are created. 

Zachary Bauer is a student in Eslinger's course.  Like professional muralists, his class works in groups, and with the OIP, their "client." Before creating the murals, the students sat down to meet with the center's staff members. They began a discussion of what the center wanted to see, and staff told students of their vision for a warm, welcoming art that would be inviting and would reflect their mission. Both groups came back with several sketches and staff chose ones that they wanted as a mural.

Bauer is happy that the office gave them great ideas to start with, but still allowed his teammates to be creative, ensuring a mutually beneficial partnership for both students and the office.  They are currently working on large, 4' x 8' murals, one from each team. 

Bauer believes the mural creation course has been a great way to teach students how to work in groups, in a way allowing them to be free from too much stress. As with any group, there are personality differences; however, the creativity aspect of art allows them to collaborate and have fun, while being imaginative and inventive together.


Mural to Bring Attention to Office of International Programs

Many students on campus may not know that the office exists or where it is located. The OIP is currently on the third floor of Old Main. Kornstad hopes that when the murals are displayed, it will help draw more attention to the office through conversation.  The mural students, she says, are likely talking about this project with friends, raising awareness of the office. She also envisions the murals as a potential conversation piece for visitors, students, faculty, and staff.


More than Academic Gain for Students

Being a first-year student can be challenging. Students are on a campus they are often not familiar with, away from their family and friends, and for some, have little connection to the city of Superior.

Eslinger tackles some of those issues. Her class includes field trips around Superior to see murals in the city. She wanted to give them more than a rich academic experience-she wanted to connect them to the university community. Eslinger's goal is to, "give them such a great experience, they stay at UWS." She recalls encounters she has had with students from four years ago-they still express a high regard for the course.  

Bauer is one of those students who has benefited on more than just an academic level. His hometown is in Milwaukee, and the field trips allowed him to see parts of Superior that he may not have otherwise had a chance to see. He also selected the course in order to stay connected to art. He took a few classes in high school and saw Eslinger's course as an opportunity to take something not related to his major, which tends to "be more straight forward." For him and other students, it helps balance out his other courses.


Strengthening Relations on Campus

The office was happy to feel "chosen" for the mural site, and felt acknowledged and appreciated. They saw it as an opportunity for the office to feel closer to the student community.

Bauer feels that the course allows students to "make a good connection" with the campus. He enjoys being able to see staff members he has worked with around campus.

"It is a great project. I can't wait to see them complete it. It so cool for it to be about the office, for the office, created by students," beams Kornstad.



Academic Service-Learning is a form of experiential learning that encourages university-community partnerships. Service-learning gives students an opportunity to learn course objectives through related, meaningful community service. The Center for Academic Service-Learning works to ensure partnerships are mutually beneficial for service-learners and the community sites served.

News Contact: Sandy Liang | 715-394-8317 | sliang{atuws}
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