Distinguished Teaching Award
Chair of the Department of Art
Professor of Art Education
Cynthia Vascak tilts her head, pausing to ponder a philosophical question: is she an artist who is also a teacher, or a teacher who is also an artist?
“Both are part of a whole,” she concludes with a smile. “Each complements the other, and each enriches the other. I try not to separate—I try to bring them together. I think of teaching as a form of artistry, and artistry as a form of teaching.”
Vascak teaches a wide range of undergraduate and graduate courses in PSU’s Department of Art, from figure drawing to Instructional Planning and Pedagogy for Art Education. While the latter may sound like a rather dry topic, Vascak, whose doctoral degree is in curriculum and instruction, finds it inspiring. “Pedagogy and curriculum are great passions of mine,” she says. “Most people think of curriculum as this tome on a shelf, but when you think about being able to create a curriculum, now that’s exciting. How do I make it come alive? What do I want my students to know and understand? What do I want them to be able to do? What do I want them to think about, question, imagine, hypothesize, create, come aflame with? How do I pull these together?
“It’s like creating a painting. If you don’t put all these pieces together in just the right way, it falls flat … it doesn’t breathe, it doesn’t have that vibrancy that demands engagement. So for me, designing a curriculum is fascinating because it has so much potential. I try to inspire my students, and the teachers I work with, to shift their perceptions about curricula. If you look at it in a creative way, it’s like another art form.”
In describing her work as a professor, Vascak often refers to passion—her own as well as her students’. “Whatever course I happen to be teaching at that time is my favorite course,” she says. “Whenever I’m teaching something, I put myself wholeheartedly into the subject.”
She stresses that point to her art education students, saying, “Your students will know the difference if you’re not passionate about what you’re teaching. Our challenge is to be passionate about whatever we are teaching, to constantly connect to the joy and fascination of learning with our students.”
Just as her roles as teacher and artist complement each other, Vascak’s passion is balanced by peace—a calm that is evident in her thoughtfulness and her artwork.
“There is so much beauty in the world, and there is so much angst,” she says. “I’ve chosen to provide a moment of beauty through my artwork. I hope that when someone is looking at my artwork in a contemplative manner, they feel a sense of calm, harmony, and grace that inspires internal reflection.”
Once again, her goals as an artist and as a teacher coincide. “I’ve always wanted to change the world and make it a more peaceful and harmonious place,” she says. “Through education and artistry, whether it’s a difference in the life of one person or many, we do change the world.”