For three weeks, Chester Alamo-Costello, professor of art and design at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, and Joshua Wilson, an adjunct art professor at USF, taught design classes to more than 100 students a day in Zigong City in the Sichuan province of China.
Alamo-Costello said attendance “ballooned” to 150 students on the second day, with students sitting on the floor while he lectured on color photography.
“I can honestly say it was one of my best teaching experiences,” Alamo-Costello said.
We had long lines of students just sitting out there, waiting to meet with us and go over their artwork and design. There’s a lot of talent out there.”— Chester Alamo-Costello, professor of art and design at the University of St. Francis in Joliet
These classes were part of a partnership USF formed in 2020 with the Sichuan University of Science & Engineering’s College of Fine Arts, Alamo-Costello said.
Five USF professors teach eight to 10 virtual classes a semester, he said.
“We initially taught one class, and then we just kept growing,” Alamo-Costello said.
Classes included 3D modeling, animation, advertising design, photography and professional practices, he said.
Wilson said in an email that USF hired him in an adjunct role to help teach the SUSE students.
Benefits of the USF and SUSE partnership
The classes provided collaborative opportunities for USF and SUSE students. For instance, the USF students created Sichuan-themed art, and SUSE students created Chicago-based art, Alamo-Costello said.
Students then presented their artwork in a virtual symposium in the spring attended by faculty and students from both institutions, Alamo-Costello said.
But teaching art in person is the most effective way to teach art, and Wilson said he was happy for the experience to do so.
“The process by which we create artwork is such an important part of the final outcome,” Wilson said in an email. “And you can’t really witness or assist in that process as when your relationship exists on a screen.”
One benefit to the SUSE students is the one-on-one feedback Alamo-Costello and Wilson provided, a feature not always available to students because their classes often are so large, Alamo-Costello said.
“We had long lines of students just sitting out there, waiting to meet with us and go over their artwork and design,” Alamo-Costello said. “There’s a lot of talent out there.”
Alamo-Costello said the three weeks in China helped him build relationships with some SUSE students, especially since he’s taught 500 since the program began.
But art is a good catalyst for finding “common ground” and developing friendships, he said.
He said that in both countries his students work very hard, although the focus of their work varies.
“I’ve got students who are fully engaged,” Alamo-Costello said. “And I’ve got some students who go through the motions to get the degree so they can try to find a job.”
Wilson said the trip also prepared him to teach his Zoom classes more effectively.
“I now know more students on a first-name basis and which students have strong conversational skills in English. I have a much better idea of their physical space where they create and make their projects and the resources available to the students,” Wilson said in the email. “And perhaps most importantly, I have a more firm grasp of their process of teaching and learning.”
Wilson said he appreciated everyone’s efforts to make the experience successful.
“A trip like this is never simple,” Wilson said in the email. “There are multiple schedules to consider and plan around, budgets to balance, safety/health concerns, meetings, errands, and dozens of emails and calls just to plan a trip like this. Not to mention last-minute changes.
“So I’m grateful to everyone that helped prepare and problem-solve all those things. Then, once all of that is taken care of, I really just tried to keep the students in mind. They are my main focus.”
Alamo-Costello said he’s started a body of work in the Zigong, Sichuan, region and plans to return in May.
To view photos, visit alamo-costello.com.