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As the home to both a liberal arts university and an art and design school, College Hill is no stranger to creative minds. But with the growing popularity of two groups focused on understanding and fostering creativity - the Creative Mind Initiative and the Creative Scholars Project - professors and students are increasingly re-evaluating classical conceptions of ingenuity.

As a graduate student at the Rhode Island School of Design, Ian Gonsher, now an adjunct lecturer for the School of Engineering, began questioning why he was producing art. "Why am I designing another thing for rich people to put in their house?" Gonsher said he asked himself. These questions pushed him to start teaching, and the Creative Mind Initiative grew out of classes he taught with Richard Fishman P'89, professor of visual art and director of the Creative Arts Council.

The Creative Mind Initiative has the dual goal of better understanding creativity and creative processes and then applying these findings in the classroom, Gonsher said.

To achieve the latter goal, the initiative has sponsored a number of classes where professors incorporate an interdisciplinary understanding of creativity. Gonsher's engineering class, ENGN 0930: "DesignStudio," is a "learning through making" class, he said, where students are given the tools and technical expertise they need to build various objects. The class also works to foster a "creative environment and community," he said. "(In) a lot of the classes in the engineering department ... the question is always provided. I want students to be able to frame their own questions."

The Creative Mind Initiative has also sponsored "communicating" classes, including VISA 1800T: "Communicating Medical Risk," offered last spring. The class, taught by faculty members from the Alpert Medical School and RISD, worked to design better ways for doctors to communicate with patients. Brown and RISD professors are also collaborating on a class this fall, VISA 1800T: "Communicating Science through Visual Media." 

To better understand individual creative processes, the Creative Mind Initiative is currently working on a website for a "window" into the creative process. Gonsher has people videotape the class to show how students work through various problems and prompts. These videos will be posted to the website to allow students to learn about their own creative processes and to allow other people to observe the processes in a variety of settings, from the art studio to a science laboratory.

The learning process is "more than the teacher standing at the front of the class lecturing," Gonsher said. "It's the student moving through a process and at the end of that process, stepping back from it and engaging it critically."

Gonsher said he thinks these findings and methods could be used in the future to help online learning "develop beyond putting cameras in lecture halls."

During the fall of 2011, Gonsher began discussing the creative process over coffee with Elizabeth Wolfson GS, which led the two to form the Creative Scholars Project. Started this past spring, the project sponsors weekly discussions between students and faculty in many different departments. 

Wolfson said the meetings have given them opportunities to talk about struggles they may be encountering in their work, ways to incorporate creativity into their teaching, how their own creative processes work and different theories about creativity. 

She said the group has expanded significantly since its founding last semester, from six to eight people attending each meeting in the spring, to around 15 to 18 people attending meetings this semester. This has allowed for greater understanding of how creativity works and can be employed in a number of different disciplines, she said.

Michael Stewart, a lecturer-term appointment in the English department, said he was initially reluctant to get involved with the Creative Scholars Project due to his hectic schedule, but after attending a few times, the meetings became "a sort of oasis in the week."

The meetings have taught him to better communicate with students by approaching problems with the student's background in mind, Stewart said. The most useful part is working with people from so many different disciplines and learning about their different ideas and creative processes, he added.

Gonsher also said that understanding that biologists and chemists and historians are just as creative as writers and artists is a main focus of the Creative Minds Initiative and Creative Scholars Project.

"Everybody's creative," he said. "Creativity can be taught and can be nurtured. As educators, we need to think of new strategies for doing that."


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