Professors Schwarte and O’Gorman empower budding activists through new Art, Design, and American Politics course

One year ago, Professor Adrienne Schwarte and Mark O’Gorman learned about a Bonner Foundation grant that would allow them to start a class focused on social action, and they knew they wanted to get involved. Their passions in design and political science, as well as their involvement with the Center for Community Engagement at Maryville College, came together to create the new Art, Design, and American Politics course.

To sum up the mission of the class, Schwarte said, “It’s important to make sure people realize that individuals can make a difference; they do make a difference, and it happens every day.”

In this three-hour course, Schwarte and O’Gorman use their personal passions and expertise to teach students about political design through lecture and practice, a very unique style for Maryville College. Schwarte, Design professor at MC, is an experienced graphic designer for political campaigns and is passionate about sustainability. O’Gorman, professor of Political Science, is also passionate about the environment.

At a conference over the summer called The 2022 Summer Institute on Teaching Social Action, Schwarte and O’Gorman, as well as other professors from across the nation, got to work closely with the Bonner Foundation and Scott Myers-Lipton, author of “CHANGE! A Student Guide” to Social Action to work out the details of the course. 

Professor O’Gorman said, “I was just appreciative to see a number of other faculty…who were all ‘jumping out of the airplane.’ We had the interest and the passion to try to develop a course like this, but…it was more like ‘OK, how do you start it?’” 

 Schwarte and O’Gorman decided to use Myers-Lipton’s book as the guide as the class textbook. Through the steps presented in the book, students must choose an important issue and build a team of fellow classmates to take action in the local community. 

Maryville College students currently in the class chose to address LGBTQ+, recycling, and drug/opioid abuse issues on campus and in the local community. Now that they are a few weeks in, official campaign groups are forming, and students will have to decide what specific issues, demands and targets they need to address. 

The professors plan to step further and further back as students become more knowledgeable about social action, so that they can become more independent. Whether or not students create lasting change in this course, they will hopefully feel empowered to create social change in the future, despite any barriers they might face. “A goal that I have is for the students to be able to see the impact that they can have on an issue that’s important to them,” said Schwarte. “And that doesn’t necessarily mean that at the end of the class that their demand has been met, but it may mean that they have seen forward progress in conversation, in discourse and in engagement around that area.”

Professor Schwarte echos that by saying, “We will be looking for [the students’] passion, their excitement, pulling them out of their comfort zone. It’s one thing to sort of say, ‘This is something that I’m concerned about and an issue that matters to me.’ It’s another thing to say, ‘I’m going to step forward and be public about doing something.’” 

If you’d like to become more vocal about the issues that matter to you, keep an eye out for Design, and American Politics when registering for next year’s classes. If you’d like to be involved in this semester’s campaigns, look for posters and social media posts in the coming weeks.

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