Recent KCAD Grad Earns Nation’s Highest Honor for Preservice Art Educators

Posted June 13, 2022 in Art Education, Student

When Ashleigh Bowyer struggled to express herself verbally as a child, it was her fourth-grade teacher who made the difference, helping her find her voice and share it with others. Today, as a recent graduate of the KCAD Art Education program and the 2022 National Art Education Association (NAEA) Preservice Art Educator of the Year, Bowyer stands poised to have that same immeasurable impact on the next generation.

“She became a huge role model for me, and I’ve always wanted to be able to do that for someone else,” Bowyer says of her former teacher’s influence on her decision to pursue art education as a career. “I’m an artist, so what could possibly be better than helping young people learn and grow through art.”

A woman in a white cardigan with blonde hair stands holding a blue crystal trophy
Ashleigh Bowyer posting with her Preservice Art Educator of the Year Award at the 2022 NAEA National Convention in New York City (image courtesy of Ashley Bowyer)

Bowyer’s recognition by the NAEA, which also includes being named the 2022 Western Region Preservice Art Educator of the Year, is a testament to her steadfast commitment to making her vision a reality. These prestigious awards are America’s highest honor for preservice art educators. As such, they’re highly competitive, determined through a peer review of nominations, and recognize exemplary contributions, service, and achievements.

“This award is being given to recognize excellence in professional accomplishment and service by a dedicated art educator,” says NAEA Preside James Haywood Rolling Jr. “Ashleigh Bowyer exemplifies the highly qualified art educators active in education today: leaders, teachers, students, scholars, and advocates who give their best to their students and the profession."

Bowyer’s path wasn’t without detours, however. She came to KCAD set on teaching art at the high school level, but when her first in-classroom experience early on in her education landed her in a kindergarten class, she knew she’d found her place.

“Kids that age are so excited for everything all the time,” she says. “They tend to be so enthusiastic and they surprise you with their ideas and abilities.”

After going through the Art Education program’s 40-hour and 80-hour student teaching placements, designed to expose students to a variety of classroom settings, Bowyer still felt called to work at the elementary level.

“Art can be such a confidence booster for kids. They may struggle in other subjects but really find their voice in art,” she says. “And there are so many important things that can come up through their work; they may not know how to talk about something but they can express it through art.”

A lesson plan for second graders to create a 3d paper sculpture

(above): a lesson plan Bowoyer created to help second graders use active art making to explore the concept of celebrations through a global, multicultural lens; (below): a bulletin board Bowyer created to help foster a sense of curiosity and exploration in her students (images courtesy of Ashleigh Bowyer)

A bulletin board featuring thousands of tiny words and a picture of a magnifying glass

As she grew her confidence and experience in the classroom, Bowyer was also doing the same outside of it. Throughout her time at KCAD, she was heavily involved with the Kendall Art Education Student Association, serving first as co-vice president, then as president. Getting involved at KCAD helped propel her to make connections in her field at the state and national levels, where she attended and presented at numerous Michigan Art Education Association (MAEA) and NAEA conferences. She also served as a preservice representative to the MAEA State Council.

“All of the connections I made were so valuable, and I wouldn’t be in this position if it weren’t for that solid community right there at KCAD,” Bowyer says. “You’re exposed to what other people are doing not just in your own state but in others. You see how people do things differently and you learn from that. Curricular content always has to evolve, so having others to share ideas with is huge, especially as a new teacher.”

Bowyer’s passion for human connection and penchant for leadership have shined through in her work outside of art education as well. She participated on the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA) ArtWorks advisory board, helping to guide a program that supports urban students in creating murals throughout Grand Rapids. She was a part of Raise Your Voice, a group that gives presentations about the harm of drugs and alcohol to middle schoolers. She’s coached Little League softball teams, volunteered at Harbor House—a home for adults with special needs—and started a book drive for patients at Helen Devos Children’s Hospital.

“Ashleigh is a warm and unassuming person who is a powerhouse leader,” says KCAD Art Education Program Chair Dr. Cindy Todd. “Her growth mindset and positivity make her classroom a wonderful place to be. She is a person of great integrity and insight who you know you can be depended upon to exceed all expectations.”

Now, after graduating from KCAD—and earning the Art Education program’s 2022 Excellence Award in the process—Bowyer turns her focus to her budding career, which she’ll begin as an elementary art teacher at Walled Lake Consolidated Schools in Walled Lake, Mich.

“Ashleigh has been an outstanding student teacher, and she will be a great asset to students, faculty, and staff at Walled Lake, says Dr. Todd. “I expect her to make KCAD very proud with the great things she will accomplish in what is sure to be a fantastic career as a teacher.”

And while she’s thrilled to begin her career on such a high note of national recognition, Bowyer has never been one to rest on her laurels.

“It’s a stepping stone,” she says. “Now that I’ve done this, it feels like I can do so much more.”

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