John Christopher “Chris” Williams, who graduated from West Virginia University’s College of Creative Arts in 2011 with a master’s degree in art education, has been named one of the winners of the Innovative Learning through the Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Award in an international competition.

The awards are presented by the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations, a consortium of universities worldwide.

His master’s thesis is titled “Art Educators and Practicing Artists: Strengthening the Curriculum and Building a Creative Community.”

Williams demonstrated the effectiveness of artist-in-residence programs through his analysis of artist immersion programs nationally. He then applied his findings within the school setting in West Virginia for a hands-on experience.

“My time at WVU helped with this award because I was given time to research arts in education, think creatively how to enhance art education in the classroom, and was supported by my art education faculty and thesis committee to take art education beyond the traditional thoughts of what and how art teachers should be teaching in their classrooms,” said Williams.

The cultural focus of these activities included celebration of the International Day of Peace and the Chinese New Year, incorporating learning components regarding multicultural dimensions and the international peace movement, as well as Chinese symbolism and history.

Activities also included puppet-making skills using various art techniques and media such as paper-mache, textiles, painting, music and performance.

“I chose my thesis topic because of a combination of these elements,” Williams said. “It includes my passion for art education, my experience in community arts development, my interest in artist residencies in the classroom, my love for theater and my fascination with puppets and using them to teach and create art.

“This topic is important for people to know and understand because the arts are an important part of the educational system. As part of my research, I studied and tested ways to teach art and make it strengthen the curriculum,” he said.

“Through arts integration, we teach an arts subject and another subject simultaneously by meeting evolving objectives in both subjects. This is an excellent way to reach students by helping administrators and school officials see how we can keep the arts in schools.”

It comes as no surprise to the faculty at WVU that Williams would achieve this award because he was a dedicated student in the classroom.

“Chris has always been very motivated, loved all the arts and was always very well prepared and professional,” said WVU art professor Victoria Fergus. “I am just so very proud that he received this award. He is truly one of the most outstanding students our program has had since I’ve been here at WVU.”

“Chris was warm, personable and a cheerleader; I mean a real male cheerleader for WVU sports,” said WVU art professor Eve Faulkes. “That has made him a natural for working with kids and getting their adrenaline up for the arts. He was also an excellent designer and cared about the audiences he could affect.”

Williams is currently the Project Coordinator for CITYarts in New York City, where he organizes all the organization’s public art projects. This includes helping to hire a professional artist to teach and collaborate with youth participants, organizing the artist residencies and workshops, overseeing the creation of the public art work and sometimes teaching workshops and leading volunteer groups in working on murals.

CITYarts’ projects frequently foster community revitalization by galvanizing businesses, schools and community organizations into developing youth programs and constructing playgrounds and gardens.

Williams’ award will be presented at the international Electronic Theses and Dissertations 2012 Symposium, to be held Sept. 12-14 at the Delfines Hotel in Lima, Peru.

The award includes a $500 cash prize and a travel scholarship to attend the symposium.

WVU became the second institution in the world to require electronic thesis and dissertation submissions in 1998. WVU graduate student research is now accessed on the Internet millions of times each year by those in academia, industry, government and the public from more than 100 countries worldwide.

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