Meet KCAD’s 2019 Valedictorian: Q&A with Andrea Oosterhouse
2019 valedictorian Andrea Oosterhouse (BFA Art Education) shares her thoughts on gaining confidence in the classroom, practicing creative flexibility, and making learning meaningful.
Andrea Oosterhouse. Photo: Jacob Morales
What led you to KCAD?
In high school, I had the opportunity to take KCAD dual enrollment classes, so when I was looking at where to go to college I already had a strong connection to KCAD and was impressed by all the programs that were offered and the campus. Grand Rapids also seemed like a great place to go to school–small, but still large enough to be vibrant and have lots of opportunity.
How did you come to decide that the Art Education program was the right place for you?
I’ve always loved art. Growing up I was constantly working on random creative projects. I didn’t focus on one specific medium, because I liked experimenting with all of them. The fact that KCAD’s Art Education program has a studio component was really appealing to me, and I liked that I wouldn’t be boxed into a single medium.
Also, in high school I was a peer-assisted listener, which meant I got the chance to spend time with younger students and help them with their school projects, which sometimes included their art projects. It was a great experience. I realized that I loved working with children, especially in those moments where you really see them get it.
Artwork by Andrea Oosterhouse
What has you experience in the program been like?
It’s very rigorous, and I mean that in a good way. The faculty are incredible, exposing you to so many different ideas about teaching and classroom situations while also enabling you to grow your own creative practice. There’s a huge emphasis on the latest pedagogical and brain research, so you’re learning a lot about how students learn and how to account for multiple intelligences and different learning styles in the classroom.
A lot of that was new to me, but it was so helpful, because you’re learning how to touch more students and help their creativity to come alive. When students are engaged and also excited, it makes them more invested in what they’re doing and helps the learning stick.
How about within your own creative practice? What did you focus on in the studio, and how did those experiences connect to the teaching aspects of the program?
I took a lot of sculpture and painting classes, but really my focus was on troubleshooting different ways I could use the art media for my project ideas. As an art teacher, you’re going to be creating lesson plans that deal with a wide variety of media, and you’re also going to have to problem solve a lot when things don’t go as planned, or when students are struggling. If you haven’t worked with the medium before, you’re not going to be able to help people effectively.
Speaking of challenges, what’s a memorable one you faced as a student, and how did you overcome it?
During sophomore year, I experienced my first time teaching in front of a class, and we had to record ourselves to watch later and learn from it. My partner and I had planned a lesson around making buttons, and we realized right before that we didn’t even know how to use the button maker we’d borrowed, so we had to quickly find a tutorial on YouTube.
It was stressful, but afterwards my partner and I got coffee and reflected on what happened, and that was awesome. We were able to laugh at our mistakes and talk about how we could do better the next time around. I love that the Art Education program makes it so that you always have someone to lean on and work with, and there’s such a focus on sharing knowledge and advice.
In-progress and completed artwork by Andrea Oosterhouse
It’s safe to say your confidence has grown tremendously since then; what’s that journey been like for you?
We’re required to do three student teaching placements in a variety of settings—rural suburban, and urban—so I got a lot of different experiences. My placement teachers helped me step over the fence of confidence; they taught me how to face fear, how to manage different classroom situations, how to make things interesting for students, and how to always be ready to adapt when things don’t go to plan. After my last placement, my confidence has just skyrocketed.
What about outside of the classroom? How did those experiences shape you?
I got involved with the Michigan Art Education Association (MAEA), and that was really cool because you get to go to conferences, you’re tapped into professional networks, you get to bond with your classmates outside of school, and you get to meet other art education students and teachers and learn from their perspective.
I also joined the Kendall Christian Fellowship student organization, and that helped me develop my leadership skills for teaching. It was cool to meet other Christians and develop those bonds outside of the classroom.
What does it mean to you to be named valedictorian of your graduating class?
It’s very humbling, because you start to think about all the people who helped you get here and all the support you had and you realize it’s not just you; you did it on the backs of other people. It’s given me a feeling of responsibility. I want to do the best with the spotlight I’ve been given and hopefully share something meaningful.
Artwork by Andrea Oosterhouse
What’s next for you? What kind of an impact do you want to make as a teacher?
I currently have a long-term teaching position at Black River Public Schools in Holland, and ultimately, I’d like to teach at a middle or high school in a rural community, because that’s the kind of community I grew up in.
First and foremost, I have a passion for helping students take the next step and be prepared for their future, whatever it might be for them. On a personal level, it’s about really making students feel cherished and valued so they can grow as people, and helping them to think outside of themselves so they can learn to look at the bigger picture.
Now that you’ve completed your KCAD journey, what advice would you give to students who are just starting theirs?
I would say ask the dumb questions; those are the ones that really help you grow. I was scared of [KCAD’s digital fabrication lab] the FlexLab for so long, but I just went in and asked questions and it completely changed the way I thought and worked creatively.
Also, just make a habit of wandering around and talking to people about what you’re doing and about what they’re doing. Be curious, because that’s how you’ll find opportunities.