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The importance of creative expression

Observer Editorial | Saturday, September 29, 2012

You can make a box out of newspaper. When you get to the end of this editorial, we’ll show you how.
Creative endeavors as simple as using material in an unexpected way stretch the mind. In the context of a University, stretching the mind aligns with the goals we have for ourselves. Yet as a student body, we often slip into a creative rut. The energy that sparks passionate discussion and engagement inside the classroom disappears once we exit through the doorway.
Creative expression is everywhere, even where you might not first see it. Saying “I’m not creative because I can’t draw” or “I can’t sing” or “I can’t dance” is simply limiting. Creativity by its very definition is the use of imagination or original ideas, and to subscribe to a limited conception of creativity boxes in the pursuit of knowledge and discovery.
In our experience, students often respond to challenges with formulaic responses. They are afraid to fail, and it shows. Discussions and assignments are treated like basic algebra problems with only one way to solve for the missing variable.
The University of Notre Dame is not just a place to solve problems, it’s a place to solve them creatively. In “Any Given Day,” a video recently released by Office of Undergraduate Admissions, Hugh R. Page, dean of the First Year of Studies says, “If we could actually replace the word ‘research’ with something like ‘learning through discovery’ – it’s a mode of acquiring knowledge that’s fully interactive.”
Notre Dame provides support to students who would like to research or discover through creativity. The Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts promotes students pursuing creative endeavors. As a grant-based organization, it provides funds to students for independently designed creative projects.
Even so, all the funding in the world cannot provide the creative spark of a curious mind. We might do well to look at other universities, who are remodeling to support interdisciplinary approaches in the classroom.
Stephen Tepper is a sociology professor and associate director of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University. During his Sept. 20 appearance on campus, he suggested moving college education toward a model that incorporates and rewards creativity in the classroom. Vanderbilt has already developed a program that teaches and rewards creativity called the Curb Creative Campus Initiative.
During the discussion after Tepper’s talk, several Notre Dame faculty members noted that the students in their classroom fail to push themselves toward creative solutions. Final projects are assumed to be essays or speeches, not video logs, artwork or poetry.
That’s not to say creativity is totally absent from our campus. Just take a look around you.
This weekend as a part of ND Theatre Now, student actors will perform in student-written and student-directed performances. They have seen the development of these plays from beginning to end, from the first idea to the final realization.
The Interdisciplinary Center for Network Science and Applications connects engineering students with other computing, science, mathematics, and social sciences researchers around the world.
English students can choose a creative writing project for their final thesis and a new crop of minors helps bridge fields within the College of Arts and Letters.
The Gigot Center for Entrepreneurship poses a challenge to business students to pitch new ideas and solve not only business challenges, but social ones as well.
There are creative people at Notre Dame, but that creativity is not injected into the classroom or undergraduate research as often as it should be. So we challenge you, Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students, to be creative. Stretch yourselves inside of the classroom and out.
If we believed in cliché, we would tell you to think outside of the box. Really, though, you should realize there is no box … unless you make one.