The Project Mission and Participants


The Project Mission and Participants

The mission of the Encounters Project is multifaceted and involves three different groups of participants that each benefited in unique ways. The three different groups of participants involved with the program were the supporting organizations, the undergraduate teaching mentors, and the high school students. Each of these groups worked together to create an enriching educational experience, fostering an open exchange of knowledge for all involved.

The supporting organizations were the History of Art and Architecture Department (HAA) at the University of Pittsburgh, specifically the Why does the History of Art and Architecture Matter initiative (WHAAM), and The Pittsburgh Assistance Center for Educators and Students (PACES). Gretchen Bender and Emily Lilly, President of PACES, collaborated as the project developers. Funding was provided by the University Honors College, through their Service Learning Course Development Grant Program. The HAA Department adopted this project as an opportunity to extend their academic discipline to the community that exists beyond the university, providing a new type of teaching experience for undergraduate HAA majors who are interested in education. PACES, a non-profit organization that seeks to improve the learning environments and experiences of Pittsburgh students, is focused on their mission is to, “enrich students, support teachers, and foster community”, and this project was carefully created and implemented to accomplish all of these. PACES is constantly looking for ways to help communities reconnect and build meaningful relationships with their schools, and this is one program where the university can develop this relationship to encourage Pittsburgh students to strive for post secondary education. 

The five undergraduate teaching mentors worked directly with Gretchen Bender and Emily Lilly throughout each step of the project. For them, the project was a unique learning opportunity because they gained valuable teaching experience and developed professional skills in a dynamic environment. While their role was first and foremost to teach, their broader role as mentors created a powerful capstone experience. The WHAAM aspect of the course asked teaching mentors to think critically about why they had chosen to study art history and how they can use their undergraduate course work in contexts outside of the university. 

The eight high school students who completed the project were from the Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy in Oakland (SciTech). The project was offered to students as an elective activity and enrollment was voluntary. The students spent time studying public art from their local environment and beyond, and then they were asked to create their own works that articulated a meaning or message that was important to them. Instead of studying monuments for the sake of memorizing facts, artist names, and dates, they were asked to reflect on the class material to identify how art communicates a statement, and the technical ways this narrative is conveyed. These students were able to create an original work, inspired by public art that they could take pride in and showcase to a broader audience at the University Art Gallery.

Ultimately this project allowed the HAA Department to explore how the study of public art can empower and inspire students – of various ages – in their academic and personal lives. The question became why does the history of art and architecture matter to these students? What did they gain from these lessons? And how do their final works display not only their voice, but also the issues raised during the class? This program was designed to target all of these overlapping questions simultaneously, while furthering the mission of using the university to positively impact the community through education.

  • Encounters
  • Undergraduate Work