For more than 35 years, West Virginia University Music History Professor Christopher Wilkinson was known by his students at the Creative Arts Center for three things—his rigorous courses, his sense of humor, and especially his emphasis on scholarly writing.
Dr. Wilkinson is now professor emeritus, having retired from the faculty of the School of Music in 2013, but he and his wife Carroll have ensured that the groundwork he laid at the University will live on by establishing an endowment to promote innovative teaching in the arts.
The couple recently pledged $28,000 to establish “The Carroll Wetzel Wilkinson and Christopher Wilkinson Course Enhancement Grant for the Teaching of Creative Arts History from a Humanistic Perspective.”
The endowment will assist faculty in developing new courses and coursework in the College of Creative Arts that will help students cultivate research writing skills, information literacy capabilities and critical engagement in the areas of art history, musicology, ethnomusicology, theater history or dance history.
“Chris and Carroll Wilkinson have been leaders across the WVU campus for many years,” said College of Creative Arts Dean Paul Kreider. “This endowment is another example of that leadership. We are so pleased that faculty in the College will have support to develop new courses in these areas, and also to reinvigorate existing courses. The Wilkinsons’ love for the arts and humanities has made this possible.”
The idea for the endowment actually came from Carroll Wetzel Wilkinson who is director of Instruction and Information Literacy at the WVU Libraries.
“One of the things I watched over the years was the amount of time that Chris spent with students, developing their writing skills,” she said. “This was a major interest he had. For his retirement party, many of his former students spoke about what they learned from Chris and how they were applying that in their academic positions as musicologists, particularly in their teaching.
“Another part of his legacy at the Creative Arts Center is that he has always been a supporter of, not just music research, but research in all of the arts,” she said. “This has not been easy in an institution that rewards scientific research far more readily.”
The new endowment will be available to faculty who teach in all three schools in the College of Creative Arts—the School of Music, the School of Art and Design, and the School of Theatre and Dance well as faculty they may be collaborating with in other WVU departments.
“Teaching of the creative arts from a humanistic perspective means viewing art, graphic design, music, theatre and dance through the lens of history,” Chris Wilkinson said.
“It means teaching students how to formulate questions about works of art in all of these areas and to formulate answers reflecting critical thinking about the issues involved.
“For example, some questions that humanistic scholar-teachers ask include: Why was a particular work of art created? What does it tell us about the artist and about the culture that shaped the artist? What does it tell us about our culture and the place of that work of art in our culture?
“To benefit the most from a humanistic study of the arts, students must be encouraged to develop research and writing skills that will enable them to express complex and nuanced arguments in a clear and persuasive manner, following a deep exploration of relevant information sources,” he said.
“There is no discipline that is without its own special vocabulary and it is essential that students learn to write within their discipline.”
Back in the 1980s, Chris Wilkinson was a member of the WVU Faculty Senate’s Liberal Studies Program Committee when the University was moving toward a writing requirement for students and he participated in formalizing the standards of research writing at WVU.
Today, WVU has many intensive courses, called “W” courses, which emphasize scholarly and other forms of writing. Both Chris and Carroll Wilkinson have been involved in developing and teaching W courses. Carroll Wilkinson has developed a W course and will teach it in 2014. Chris has developed and taught a W course since the late 1980s. All undergraduate students in research areas must now complete at least one writing intensive course as part of their requirements.
The model for the Wilkinsons’ endowment actually came in part from the WVU Libraries’ five-year-old faculty stipend program in information literacy, which Carroll Wilkinson has been leading since 2009.
“This is the sixth year that we have promoted the course enhancement program in information literacy, which helps students become better researchers,” she said.
“It is so important for their academic success and eventual employment that they develop information literacy, by which we mean the capacity to discover and judge evidence that may contribute to their growing understanding of the subject of their studies and to think and act like humanistic scholars.
“Chris and I wish to support in a small way the development of innovative approaches to this task in the classrooms of the College of Creative Arts.”
Carroll Wetzel Wilkinson began her career at WVU Libraries in 1979 as a reference librarian and Appalachian bibliographer. After serving as chief circulation librarian, she became head of Access Services on the Downtown Campus, where she oversaw the opening of the WVU Libraries’ first book depository and led the development of the electronic reserves system. She became director of Instruction and Information Literacy in 2006 and also serves as the library liaison and bibliographer to WVU’s Center for Women’s and Gender Studies since the early 1990s.
In 2012, she co-edited a collection of essays entitled “Transforming Information Literacy Programs: Intersecting Frontiers of Self, Library Culture, and Campus Community,” appearing in the Association of College and Research Libraries Publications in Librarianship Series #64. This book raises a broad range of challenges academic librarians face in higher education environments as they teach the art and craft of research.
She is also one of five institutional participants in Dr. Megan Oakleaf’s 2010-11 cohort of the Rubric Assessment of Information Literacy Skills (RAILS) research project. She has continued to work with colleagues from RAILS to do presentations and workshops in 2012-14 on assessing authentic examples of student information literacy learning.
Christopher Wilkinson, who joined the WVU School of Music faculty in 1976, specializes in the history of African-American music with particular attention to jazz, as well as to the history of art music from a multicultural perspective.
His most recent research has focused on the reception of jazz in the African-American communities of West Virginia during the Swing Era. In 2012 he published the book, Big Band Jazz in Black West Virginia, 1930-1942.
In 2001, the University of California Press published his biographical study Jazz on the Road: Don Albert’s Musical Life. He has also published articles in American Music, Black Music Research Journal, West Virginia History, College Music Symposium, Contributions to Music Education, Music and Letters, and The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd ed.
Since his retirement, he has returned to his study of the clarinet, which he played through grade school, high school and college. He is also continuing his work on the program committee of the Society of American Music and its Allegheny Chapter, and is collaborating with Teaching Assistant Professor Joseph Lebold of the WVU Department of Geology and Geography, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, on a book examining the geology of West Virginia, another of his many interests.
The Carroll Wetzel Wilkinson and Christopher Wilkinson contribution to the WVU College of Creative Arts was made in conjunction with A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University. The $750 million comprehensive campaign being conducted by the WVU Foundation on behalf of the University runs through December 2015.
CONTACT: Charlene Lattea, College of Creative Arts
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