The School of the Art Institute of Chicago is a distinguished arts institution that has sought to incorporate many of the holistic values and practices associated with liberal-arts education. With support from Bringing Theory to Practice grants, SAIC has undertaken several innovative projects that linked studio-arts education with living-learning programs, community engagement, preparation for work, and psycho-social well-being (the latter often an important challenge in arts conservatory settings).
The first of these programs was an experimental Residential College for first-year students, piloted with support from a BT2P demonstration grant in 2007. The RC organized special living-learning sections of the Research Studio required of all incoming students; it integrated studio learning with expanded community engagement; it created integrated advising between faculty and student-life advisors; and it developed programs focused on student wellness, health, and food. Although the full-blown pilot ended in 2011, key features of its success, including the integration of faculty and student-life advising and the use of engaged pedagogy, were incorporated into the first-year program.
A second project several years later, again with BT2P funding, linked these themes with a new focus on student work and financial need. The Flourishing Through Work Initiative offered a cohort of “Freshmen Fellows”—all of whom had financial-aid need—jobs in campus departments linked with faculty mentors. In addition to the financial support, the Fellows developed important work skills and navigational knowledge of the college’s resources. They gained confidence and built important connections with peers, mentors, and work colleagues. Supervisors in the participating departments expressed overwhelming support for the program. The initiative was viewed as a model for strengthening opportunities for on-campus student employment and the integration of employment with mentoring and campus engagement.