Findings Staff Report | April 12, 2019
As an undergraduate environmental engineering student at the University of Cincinnati, Sarah Baryluk realized early on that big problems are not commonly solved by one person or a single discipline. From that day on, the Columbus native decided to be deliberate about collaboration.
She took every interdisciplinary course available to her and joined an activist group called Fossil Free UC. She helped organize the annual UC Sustainability Summit four years running and became a peer leader coordinator in the Learning Commons, working alongside students from various backgrounds.
“I want to test my skills that I’ve developed in those situations and work on something new and exciting,” says Baryluk, who will graduate in May. She credits these and one other UC experience in particular with landing her first job out of college as an environmental engineer.
That final feather in her cap was the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities, an interscholastic association of universities and colleges focused on enhancing arts and humanities research. Baryluk was invited to be a UC delegate to two of its Emerging Creatives Student Summits in her four years.
The February summit hosted by James Madison University was particularly useful, she says. She and roughly 100 other students from colleges across the country were challenged to think about Food and Place for three days. What opportunities present themselves when food is plentiful? What problems arise when food is scarce? How can ART play a role in creative solutions?
Her team created a DIY magazine called "Stone Soup," which talked about food waste and how to mitigate it.
The a2ru alliance began at University of Michigan in 2012 and is now 43 universities strong. UC joined a few years ago. The program is sponsored by the Office of Research.
"As the home to some of the nation’s most highly-ranked arts programs, the University of Cincinnati strives to transform its students into exceptional leaders, thinkers and makers who will forever change their fields," UC's a2ru mission reads online.
The student summit is just one of the group’s initiatives, says Megan Lamkin, who took the UC delegation this year and is program director for undergraduate research at UC’s Division of Experience-based Learning and Career Education.
Each member school is committed to advancing arts-integrative research, curricula, programs and creative practices at their universities by working together and addressing the dwindling funds available for such research.
In America, STEM research and arts and humanities research tends to be siloed, Lamkin says, and there’s a huge divide in funding for arts and humanities compared to STEM. In 2018, for instance, the National Science Foundation budget was $7.8 billion while the National Endowment for the Arts budget was $155 million.
A2ru challenges these norms, Lamkin says. At UC that has translated into new programs and classes, such as Sticky Innovation: Solving the Problem of the Bees through Engineering and Art, a cross-college course offered in 2018 to DAAP and CEAS students. Those same students are currently doing an independent study to compete in the Biodesign Challenge, with a biotechnological solution to help bees. The competition is open to university students from around the globe.
Next year, UC will get even more involved, by hosting the Emerging Creatives Student Summit. Roughly 100 students and program directors will come to Cincinnati for what Lamkin calls an “unconference.” Rather than people sitting in a room listening to experts share expertise, these summits are immersive, intended to stimulate and produce visceral reactions, Lamkin says.
UC’s theme will be RISE! Community-Connection-Collective Memory.
“We will dive into Cincinnati’s long history of civic unrest and use our insights as a springboard to meaningful dialogue and the development of creative calls to action against social injustice and inequality,” Lamkin says. It will draw on UC’s strengths in the creative and performing arts, humanities, and science, technology, engineering and medicine and its location in an urban environment, she says.
It will no doubt be a valuable experience for many, says Baryluk, who says her eyes were opened in all sorts of new ways at the 2017 and 2019 conferences. She spoke of some of those experiences in her interview to become an environmental engineer for an engineering consulting firm in Fairfax, Virginia, where she’ll start after graduation.
“This experience taught me a lot about trusting yourself and taking risks and new challenges,” Baryluk says. “Being able to engage with the subject matter of solid waste, still in an academic and rigorous setting, but not an engineering/technical one, was an experience I’d never really had before, and one that I am eager to find again.”
To learn more about a2ru, the opportunities it presents at UC or the upcoming summit, visit the a2ru webpageor contact Lamkin at firstname.lastname@example.org.