Jefferson’s Creativity Core Curriculum Encourages Lifelong Learning

Helping students to step outside their comfort zones, the curriculum expands in its second full year.

On an unseasonably warm fall afternoon, a small group of Jefferson undergraduates spin plates, juggle and perform assorted acrobatics, all laughing as they try to master new skills.

A short distance away inside the DEC Center, another 13 classmates learn about the history of perfume and careers in the industry before creating their own scents to take home.

Throughout the year, other students will select from dozens of sessions on everything from improv, crochet and magic to yoga and playwriting.

These creative-making workshops—a key component of Jefferson’s new Creativity Core Curriculum—will help prepare students for the longevity of their careers, not just their first jobs out of school, says Maribeth Kradel-Weitzel, assistant provost for academic affairs and director of the Creativity Core Curriculum.

Student doing a handstand
In the “Success and Failure in Circus” workshop, student Geyer Shope learns proper handstand technique. (Photos by ©Thomas Jefferson University Photography Services)

“We want them to flourish for their lifetime,” she says. “This curriculum encourages lifelong learning and the eradication of fear of the unknown and false boundaries. Students can step outside of their disciplinary comfort zone and try something new. The rapid advancement of automation, artificial intelligence and technology is catalyzing intense, unpredictable and constant change. We need to help our students be as flexible, adaptable and optimistic as possible. This curriculum speaks to that.”

In fact, by simply listing the workshop choices chronologically rather than categorically, curriculum leaders attempted to steer students away from comfortable or familiar subjects, says Dr. Michael Brody, Jefferson’s senior advisor for creativity and art.

“You need to expand your mind, your knowledge and your toolset,” he explains. “It’s impossible to know what might be beneficial to you in the future, but creativity and innovation are translatable to whatever career you finally choose.”

Student making her own perfurme
Student Rosemary Thomas prepares to make her own perfume during the “Experimenting With Scents: Creating a Fragrance” workshop. Jeanette Fiumenero, owner of Perfumenero, led the three-hour session.

After a successful two years of piloting and tweaking, the curriculum expanded this semester. In addition to First-Year Seminar students completing one creative-making workshop, all undergrads now take a “creativity-intensive course” embedded in their majors. A second creative-making workshop is attached to the creativity-intensive course.

A class must meet the following three learning objectives to qualify as a creativity-intensive course:

  • create value by producing novel output relevant to professional and real-world endeavors;
  • devise effective strategies for creative production;
  • and engage empathetic and critical-thinking skills when framing opportunities and solving problems.

Such Jefferson courses include DEC Frameworks, Media Writing, Design I, Conspiracy Theories and Research Methods for the Behavioral Sciences.

We need to help our students be as flexible, adaptable and optimistic as possible. This curriculum speaks to that. –Maribeth Kradel-Weitzel

The curriculum’s third component is a change to the Hallmarks Capstone: Philosophies of the Good Life, a required course that all undergrads take during their final year. The revision would recenter the class around the book “Designing Your Life” and feature exercises that use design thinking, reflective writing and prototyping strategies to help students plan for life after graduation, Kradel-Weitzel says. (This piece of the curriculum won’t officially launch until last year’s first-year students begin the Hallmarks Capstone.)

As for the workshops, they underwent a major expansion this year. Not only have the number of offerings doubled, the sessions—which run two to five hours long—place a greater emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion topics, Kradel-Weitzel says. Some examples of these workshops include “The Mane Talk: A Walkthrough on Black/African American Hair,” “Disrupting Unconscious Bias” and “The Spirit World of Matcha,” among others.

Students doing crabwalk
Through juggling, simple acrobatics and balance challenges, the “Success and Failure in Circus” workshop taught students to embrace the necessary failure that can lead to success.

Workshop facilitators feature a mix of industry experts and faculty from Jefferson and other institutions across the country. (About two-thirds of sessions are virtual.)

“The speakers are professionals in their fields: lawyers, physicians, musicians, artists,” Dr. Brody says. “We even have the dean of a school of magic in Las Vegas.”

Starting in spring 2022, the workshops will go international with partners from the University of Arkansas in Rome and University of London Institute in Paris running programs.

“We can bring in experts from anywhere—geography isn’t a limitation,” says Kradel-Weitzel, adding she encourages more Jefferson faculty to deliver workshops in the future. “It’s an exciting and valuable opportunity to flex your expertise in outside interests and build partnerships across colleges.”

It’s impossible to know what might be beneficial to you in the future, but creativity and innovation are translatable to whatever career you finally choose. –Dr. Michael Brody

Biology professor Dr. Anne Bower and textile design professor Becky Flax teamed up to present the workshop “Natural Dyes From Kitchen Food and Invasive Plant Species: Environmental and Social Justice” in September.

“I love every opportunity to speak about the work Dr. Bower and I are doing and to share the practice of natural dyeing with excited and engaged students,” Flax says. “It can be a truly enriching experience.”

Dr. Bower agreed, saying faculty who wish to inspire students by showcasing a unique topic, technique, study or professional practice should consider developing a workshop.

Student smelling perfume
Pre-nursing student Zyra Pham learned about the science behind making perfume and careers in the industry before creating her own scent to take home.

Biology program director Dr. Jeffrey Klemens presented two sessions, “Exploring Lyrics” and “How to Talk to a Computer—An Introduction to Computing and Computational Thinking.”

“It’s always enjoyable to interact with students from colleges beyond my own,” he says. “My ‘How to Talk to a Computer’ session facilitated some tangible cross-campus collaboration. I was presenting aspects of how I use computing in my own research, and one of the attendees was interested in similar questions but from a design perspective. He now has joined my research group as the lone industrial designer among a group of science majors.”

Other students had similarly positive experiences from their workshops this fall. Pre-nursing student Zyra Pham enjoyed learning about the history of perfumery along with the science behind making perfumes during “Experimenting With Scents: Creating a Fragrance.”

Student in a classroom
Students choose from dozens of creative-making workshops on everything from crochet to magic to playwriting. Here, Ethan Santiago takes notes before creating his own scent.

Rosemary Thomas, a health sciences/pre-physician assistant student, also took the scents session led by Jeanette Fiumenero, owner of Perfumenero. “I thought the workshop was engaging and unique,” Thomas says. “I’ve never created my own scent before, so I was excited to attend and pleased with the final product.”

Instructed by two coaches from the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, health sciences student Geyer Shope says the “Success and Failure in Circus” workshop prepared him with valuable tools for the real world.

“Learning new skills like juggling and balancing techniques allowed me to realize that it’s OK to fail,” he says. “It’s important to push through failure in order to succeed.”

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