Helping the Flower City Bloom With Art and Design

Kate Jacobs stamp painting with a child.
Helping the Flower City bloom with art and design

Children approach the table and Kate Jacobs ’20 (illustration) introduces them to stamp printing. As they create, Jacobs asks them about their plans for the weekend, what their favorite colors are, and other questions that prompt even the shyest child to come out of their shell.

At first, many of the children were unsure about the new people visiting their school. But all of them left with smiles on their faces, new artwork in hand, and an excitement about creating.

Jacobs is enrolled in RIT’s one-year master’s degree program for teaching art and was volunteering at a three-day community art camp during February school break. Jacobs and the master’s program cohort regularly host free arts and crafts events for the local community.

“Most of the projects are open-ended, and it empowers the kids to explore their own creativity and to discover their creative voice,” said Jacobs. “For me, it’s also a good reminder that one of the aspects of a teacher’s role, in a sense, is being a community builder and relating back to those around you, especially your students.”

Over the last year, RIT students, alumni, faculty, and staff have worked to give back to the Rochester community by leveraging art and design. From providing creative outlets for young students to making a shelter to protect residents from the weather, RIT community members are dedicated to giving back to the city where they blossomed into the professionals they are today.

R I T graduate students helping kids create art projects with beads.

Graduate students, from left to right, Anna Henry, Gabriel Rivas, and Emily Sudock helped kids create art projects during a free camp.


Creating without

The camp was one of several events students enrolled in the visual arts-all grades (art education) Master of Science for Teachers (MST) program provide for school-aged children each year.

These events began five years ago as a partnership with the Joseph Avenue Art and Culture Alliance (JAACA), a local nonprofit organization that supports art and cultural offerings in Rochester.

“A lot of institutions have programs that are free and available for anybody to attend, but that doesn’t mean the people in the city of Rochester are able to get to them,” said David J. Pacific, executive director of JAACA. “Bringing these institutions into the community is a transformative experience for children and families, and we have been proud to facilitate that.”

Lauren Ramich is graduate director of the MST program, one of two teaching programs at RIT. She said that engaging with children at these events helps her students recognize the community impact they can have as an educator.

“Pragmatic experience like this helps to widen our perspectives as educators, and it better prepares our candidates to be more inclusive and culturally responsive teachers,” Ramich said.

Tracy Pakusch ’10 (illustration), ’13 MST (visual arts-all grades) has taught art at John Williams School No. 5 for six years, working with students from kindergarten to sixth grade.

Pakusch fondly recalls working directly with the local community during her time as an MST student. After attending one of the arts and crafts events hosted by the MST program, she was inspired to work with the program, and JAACA, to host a free art camp for the students at School No. 5 during February break 2023.

“I’m hoping this is something we can do every year going forward,” said Pakusch.

Anna Henry, an MST student and Rochester native, said removing the assumed authority dynamic between teacher and student by volunteering at the community art events has altered her approach to teaching and community building.

“When you’re sitting next to somebody at a table and there isn’t that moment of instruction, it really makes you consider how you engage and build relationships with your students on a peer-to-peer level,” Henry said.

RIT students helped design, manufacture, and assemble the bus shelter.

Once it’s installed, the new bus shelter will be placed at one of the preexisting bus stops located on Joseph Avenue.

A screenshot of a map on Google.Two R I T students crafting a bench for the bus stop. A polaroid image of the prebuilt bus stop shelter being held up in front of a view of where the current but stop is on Joseph Avenue.

Making a
tangible impact

Along with nurturing creativity, faculty and students in the School of Art are making a physical impact on the city of Rochester by creating a bus shelter for the Joseph Avenue neighborhood.

The idea was put forward by Neil Scheier, board vice president of the Joseph Avenue Business Association and board president of JAACA.

“Walking the streets of Rochester’s Northeast quadrant one winter day, I witnessed many cold, sneakered feet awaiting buses while standing in slush and snow,” said Scheier. “My mind flashed back to a previously completed vision plan for the region sponsored by the Joseph Avenue Business Association and its call for more bus shelters. This eventually led to an outreach to RIT, and a bus shelter was later born.”

The shelter was designed by students in a Topics in Studio Art: Public Art course for graduate students, taught by Matt Wicker, adjunct faculty, in the spring of 2020.

“From the beginning we had to recognize that form has to follow function. We had to try not to over design it and to make sure it hit all the marks it needed to as far as keeping the rain off but not being overly enclosed, and having the structure be durable and easy enough to repair should it get damaged,” said Wicker.

Gretchen Ettlie ’02 (graphic design), ’21 MFA (fine arts studio) was a student in the public art course where the shelter’s design was finalized. Her experience prompted her to think about the importance of working with the community as a partner rather than approaching projects like this as a content expert.

“When we visited a local library to share our ideas with people in the community, we talked to the security guard who worked there and he shared some information that we hadn’t thought of, the kind of thing you had to live in the neighborhood to know, and that would highly influence the design,” said Ettlie, now an adjunct faculty member in the College of Art and Design (CAD).

While the work was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the shelter was completed and delivered by faculty and students to the city of Rochester last summer. The goal is to install the shelter before the end of this year.

MacKenna Rhoads, dressed in an outfit for a dance recital, leaps in the air while a photographer takes her picture.

Rochester City School District senior MacKenna Rhoads gets first-hand experience as part of a dual-enrollment program with RIT.


Supporting local

Other RIT community members are creating pathways within the classroom to make higher education more accessible for local high school students.

Last year, RIT’s School of Photographic Arts and Sciences established a dual-enrollment program in photography with the Rochester City School District through the Virtual Academy of Rochester online learning program.

“This is an opportunity for self-motivated students to experience a college course while being fully immersed in their high school experience,” said Christine Shank, associate dean of undergraduate students in CAD, who helped establish the program.

Students in the program also can familiarize themselves with navigating a campus through two visits to RIT. Their coursework will culminate in an art show, hosted at RIT’s City Art Space, and students who meet the grade requirements will receive both high school and college credit.

Susan T. Rudy, art instructor and mentor at Rochester’s School of the Arts and lead teacher for the Virtual Academy of Rochester, worked with RIT to establish the new course. She adapted the curriculum of an RIT Introduction to Photography course for non-majors to suit a high school audience, with advisement from Meredith Davenport, director of the photojournalism program at RIT.

“Our students have the opportunity to learn time management, which is sometimes a big adjustment for students when they head to college, and they also learn how to persevere,” said Rudy.

Davenport said that exposing high school students to a college-level photography course will have a lasting impact, regardless of their chosen career path.

“Learning photography and exploring your identity through the very accessible tool of the camera can help students build a stronger sense of identity and self-esteem,” Davenport said.

MacKenna Rhoads, a high school senior taking the dual-enrollment course, is a testament to the success of partnering with the community to support future innovators and creators.

Rhoads, who plans to major in forensics or biochemistry when she goes to college, shared that the dual-enrollment course helped her feel more confident when planning her future.

“I knew it was a good idea to take some college courses in my senior year, and I think this course really helped prepare me for going to college,” Rhoads said. “Now I know what to expect and what I’m looking for.”

Senior lecturer and photographer, Clay Patrick McBride, showing high school students how to screen print on glass.

Clay Patrick McBride, a senior lecturer and nationally recognized photographer, shows high school students how to screen print on glass during a tour of RIT’s Printmaking Studio.