Program helps satisfy need for creative outlet

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A. Sue Weisler

Margaret Bailey, associate professor in the Kate Gleason College of Engineering, talks to a modern poetry class about electricity as part of the Unlikely Partners series.

Creativity at RIT comes in many flavors, from the sharply apparent to the subtly distinctive: take, for instance, Signatures magazine, an annual collection of student art and literature, or the concrete canoe, a perennial project in the College of Applied Science and Technology that challenges students to wrestle with an oxymoron and win.

The desire to explore and nurture the creative climate at RIT motivated a small group of professors from across campus to form the Creativity and Invention Working Group last spring. The idea for the initiative grew indirectly from a creative writing class Anne Coon taught last winter and the frustration her students voiced about the lack of creative opportunities at RIT. Coon knew other professors were doing exciting things on campus and quietly set about starting a dialogue, talking to colleagues interested in the broader context of creativity and research linking it to critical thinking and leadership skills.

“We started with the questions: What is creativity at RIT? What is invention at RIT? And what could it become?” says Coon, professor of English and College of Liberal Arts senior associate dean.

The Creativity and Invention Working Group seeks answers to those questions through interdisciplinary collaboration. RIT is an ideal place, Coon says, to take advantage of a “convergence of technology, arts, science and humanities. We have potential here that other universities just don’t have.”

Glimpses of that potential can be seen in the Unlikely Partners project, an activity of the Creativity and Invention group suggested by Jeff Wagner, assistant professor of economics. This series of single lectures offered within existing classes pairs professors from different disciplines together to explore a topic from an unexpected perspective.

The first talk in the series featured Coon and Margaret Bailey, associate professor of mechanical engineering in the Kate Gleason College of Engineering, in a talk about “Electrification and the Language of Poetry” for Coon’s modern poetry class. The individual lectures and class discussion explored the impact electricity has had on people’s lives and how poetry has captured everything from the awe of the first street lamp to the devastating effects of coal mining on the environment.

Wagner and Jon Schull, associate professor of information technology, offer the second Unlikely Partners talk—“The Technology and Economics of Digital Goods and Digital Rights Management” —from 10 to 11:50 a.m. Feb. 22, in the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences, room 2400. Additional talks are being planned for the spring quarter.

“One of the most exciting outcomes of the Working Group is collaboration between and among faculty from very different disciplines,” says Katherine Mayberry, RIT vice president for academic affairs. “Creativity is really at the heart of all intellectual pursuits and academic disciplines and thus becomes the common vocabulary for engineers and poets, computer scientists and artists. The efforts of this group will yield intriguing and as yet unforeseen results that will benefit the entire community.”

On May 11, the Creativity and Invention Working Group will host a symposium, “Creativity: Technology: Invention” to coincide with the Digital Arts Competition at RIT. “We felt this was an example of the convergence of art and technology that serves as an inspiration,” Coon says.

The symposium will include performances, exhibits, digital poetry, faculty workshops and panels on the creative process. The College of Liberal Arts and Lynn Wild, assistant provost for teaching and learning services at RIT, are sponsoring the event.

For information about the group, e-mail