The National Art Education Association (NAEA) has named FSU Art Education alumna Dr. Melody Milbrandt as 2015’s National Art Educator of the Year! This prestigious and peer nominated award was presented at the NAEA National Convention in New Orleans, March 26-28, 2015.
The National Art Education Association is the leading professional membership organization exclusively for visual arts educators. Members include elementary, middle, and high school visual arts educators; college and university professors; university students preparing to be art educators; researchers and scholars; teaching artists; administrators and supervisors; and art museum educators—as well as more than 47,000 students who are members of the National Art Honor Society -The National Art Education Association
To learn more about the association and the award, visit the NAEA website here.
Currently, Dr. Milbrandt is a professor at Ernest G. Welch School of Art and Design at Georgia State University. Although Dr. Milbrandt is very busy, we were thrilled when she agreed to participate in an email interview to include in this week’s blog, which highlights her time at FSU and involvement in the NAEA, as well as her career since graduating from Florida State! We have included the interview questions and Dr. Melody Milbrandt’s responses below.
1. Did you ever imagine yourself receiving this honor?
No, not really. I was very surprised and honored.
2. How did you become involved with NAEA? Why were you attracted to this organization?
When I began teaching I lived in a rural area of Kansas. My cooperating teacher was a member of the Kansas Art Education Association (KAEA) and also occasionally attended the national conventions. She encouraged me to join KAEA and I attended my first national conference with her. State and national art education associations provided me valuable opportunities for professional growth. I appreciated these opportunities to learn as well as the community of energetic, knowledgeable, supportive and fun art educators that I came to know.
3. What opportunities did you pursue that led to your career or may have helped you along the way?
I always enjoyed art as a child and took community art classes as well as at school. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to pursue teaching art as a career but my experiences volunteering teaching art appreciation in an elementary school helped me decide to enter the field.
4. Who were your major professors during your time at FSU? How have those relationships helped you throughout your career?
I had classes under Dr. Jesse Lovano-Kerr, June (Eyestone) Finnegan, Dr. Betty Jo Troeger, Dr. Charles Dorn and Dr. Tom Anderson while at FSU. All of them were very special engaging educators who contributed a great deal to my educational experience. As I moved into higher education I’m sure all of these professors wrote letters of recommendation and were a continual source of encouragement. Dr. Lovano-Kerr and Dr. June Finnegan were members of my dissertation committee. They were both wonderful feminist role models who inspired me to re-visit feminist ideas in my artwork during that time. Tom Anderson chaired my dissertation committee and for a number of subsequent years we worked on a book, Art for Life, that grew out of my dissertation. Tom is exceptionally generous in acknowledging my contributions and his well-crafted writing and kind nature continue to inspire to me.
5. Did any particular experience in the FSU program provide you with the tools you needed to lead you to this career path?
During a summer class Dr. (at that time Eyestone) Finnegan read the class an announcement about submitting dissertation proposals to the J. Paul Getty Institute for a doctoral fellowship. At that point I did not have my proposal complete but it sounded like such a great opportunity I thought I should try to meet the October deadline. Dr. Anderson went out of his way to support my efforts to submit the proposal and incredibly I received a Getty Fellowship. Becoming a Getty Fellow was a tremendous help to me both financially and in meeting other art educators at similar points in their careers, as well as other senior art educators involved in work with the Getty.
6. What was the most important/influential thing that you learned while in school?
During Dr. Anderson’s courses we discussed a number of postmodern/contemporary artists. At that time I had not really kept up with the contemporary art world or thought much about how it might be taught in the art classroom. Contemporary art became important teaching content for me to use as a vehicle for addressing issues of social justice in the classroom. Those ideas became a cornerstone of my dissertation and later Art for Life. Probably one of the most important life lessons I learned while completing my doctoral program was negotiating “the devil in the details.” Learning from mis-steps as well as success taught me perseverance, humility and gratitude. Perseverance allowed me to synthesize and present a myriad of ideas in a meaningful way but I also realized how much time and care I was given as a student at FSU and am very grateful for the mentoring I received.
7. Have you had any major setbacks in pursuit of your career path and how did you overcome them?
I’m not sure that there were major setbacks but there were obstacles and issues to resolve. As a teenager and young adult I was a very quiet, shy, introvert, so the transition to teaching and speaking in front of my students was a challenge that I didn’t relish. In those early weeks of teaching as I worked with students individually I found that my anxiety disappeared and I began to enjoy sharing my love for making and talking about art. Today I still enjoy seeing young teachers, who initially struggle when addressing a class, find their “teacher voice” and blossom almost overnight.
8. Do you have any advice for students or professionals who might desire to follow in your footsteps?
I’m not sure that one can or even should follow in another person’s footsteps. Everyone has their own unique experiences that have led them to a specific career and teaching context that is probably best for them at the time. I spent almost as many years teaching K-12 art as I have in higher education so those experiences significantly color my perspectives and work in higher education. If I’ve had any measure of success it is probably because I have worked hard, so I guess my first piece of advice would be to find what you love to do and then work hard to do it well. Having said that I also think it’s also important to find a balance between one’s professional and personal life. That balance isn’t always easy to strike but I think it feeds our ability to maintain a healthy perspective about our goals and accomplishments.
9. Any future plans/goals?
I greatly appreciate this wonderful profession of art education that allows me to work with tremendously talented students and colleagues. I plan to continue to work hard to realize personal and professional growth and achievements that those opportunities provide.
The Art Education Department would like to sincerely thank Dr. Melody Milbrandt for taking the time to participate in this interview. We are so proud of her success and look forward to hearing about other wonderful things she will be accomplishing in the future!