Juliet Whitsett talks about fighting cancer, raising children, and attending graduate school at UT Austin
Wed. April 29, 2015
Juliet Whitsett is a graduate student in Art Education and is writing her thesis on the principles that guide and motivate those who direct the Public Programs at the Friends of the High Line in New York. She is investigating how the recognition of these principles contributes to understandings regarding the development of art education in a community.
Whitsett received a BA in Art Education and certificate in Art in Special Education from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She is proud to call herself as a teacher, public program coordinator, community arts educator, Salsa and Texas Swing dance instructor, plant lover, traveler, cancer survivor, stepmother to 13-year-old Kai, and mother to 3-year-old twin girls, Fischer and Sequoia.
She answered questions from Professor Paul Bolin by email.
Paul Bolin: Tell us about your background and what led you to the Art Education program at UT Austin.
Juliet Whitsett: When I was finishing my bachelor’s degree in Art Education, I told myself "There's no way I am applying for a job as an art teacher after graduation. I want to have some more adventures first.” So that’s what I did.
I moved from Madison to Austin and became an AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer teaching gardening to children. VISTA really shaped my life. I made contacts in the environmental education world, and I took a position as an Environmental Educator at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. I infused the arts into my entire curriculum, and I saw how they could be used to teach about the natural world.
After the Wildflower Center, I took a job as a guide with an international organization that leads trips for young adults to various parts of the world. Journeys focused on adventure travel, volunteerism, and language study. My work with them took me to the South Pacific and Central and South America. I landed in Mexico, where I lived for two years polishing up my Spanish and learning how to teach Salsa, and directing an art, dance, and Spanish camp for U.S. teens.
In 2009, I moved back to Austin. While working for a high-end landscape business, I discovered I had cancer. I spent six months in chemotherapy and one month undergoing radiation.
One day after a chemo session, I was listening to a piece on the radio about John Cage, and something about it made me reflect on creativity in a new and different way. I marveled at how he was so rewarded for his divergent thinking and how he followed so many visions. Hearing that flipped a switch and rekindled an interest in returning to my roots as an art educator. I took the GRE while undergoing radiation. A few months after I completed treatment, I began the Art Education program in the fall of 2010!
PB: What were the most challenging parts of the program, and conversely, the most rewarding?
JW: In the summer of 2011, I wanted to find an incredible internship. I wanted to work for the High Line in New York; however, the Public Programs Department of The Friends of the High Line did not have an internship program. I was fairly persistent and, recognizing that my experience with both art education and environmental education was the perfect fit, they accepted me as their first summer intern.
A few weeks before leaving for New York, I found out I was pregnant — with twins! Determined to fulfill my dream of living in New York for a summer, I spent the first three months of my pregnancy away from home, writing curriculum and executing public programs.
I encourage graduate students to find an internship that they really want. I learned so much and gained incredible contacts. I ended up working for Friends of the High Line the following year, writing some of their summer curriculum — Babies in Tote — from Austin. Eventually, the High Line's public programs became the subject of my thesis.
It is now 2015 and most of my classmates graduated in the spring of 2012. It has been a long haul. Writing a thesis while juggling sweet and inquisitive twins — now preschoolers — and a tween stepson, as well as working full-time and writing a thesis is challenging.
Now that I am in the throes of my final thesis edits and my last classes are wrapping up, it's starting to sink in that I really did this! I couldn't have done it without my loving husband's support or without the patience and confidence of you, my faculty adviser.
PB: Do you have plans once you finish the program?
JW: I’m going to do is celebrate my master's degree with my family and friends! I will continue to contribute to the world in a creative way, and right now, I’m enjoying teaching art and gardening at Austin Discovery School. In my younger years, I avoided Art Education in search of adventure. I'll be 40 this year and I have had my fair share of adventures, so I’m excited to embrace this next step.
Alumni Spotlight: Milady Casco, MA in Art Education, 2010
Wed. April 29, 2015
Paul Bolin: It's been a few years since you've graduated, what have you been up to?
Milady Casco: Since graduating in 2010, I have been living in Guatemala working as the on-site coordinator for Casa Herrera, UT Austin’s academic research facility in Antigua. Casa Herrera is operated by the Department of Art and Art History and serves as an extension of The Mesoamerica Center. After almost 4.5 years on the job, I have helped facilitate a number of study abroad programs, academic residencies, and conferences in the areas of archaeology, anthropology, education, and visual culture. Our programs keep growing every year! This summer 2015, we will be welcoming 50 study abroad students from UT Austin and other US academic institutions.
PB: Why were you interested in working in Guatemala at Casa Herrera? How did it fit into your past research?
MC: I initially arrived to Casa Herrera for the first time in 2009 as a student visiting researcher through Casa’s academic residency program. I lived in Casa Herrera for three months and dedicated my time writing my master’s thesis, which was a case study about art education and issues of cultural identity at the Museum of Art in El Salvador (MARTE). I never expected that this residency would be a turning point for me professionally.
During my time in Antigua, I was captivated by the city’s colonial charm, but more importantly I was drawn to learning about the indigenous communities and Mesoamerican history that form the basis of Guatemalan culture and society today. There were many parallels that I had made between the histories and art practice of El Salvador and Guatemala. The more I learned, the stronger I desired to return to Guatemala and continue exploring themes that I had researched in my thesis.
When the opportunity to work at Casa Herrera as a staff member came about, there was no doubt in my mind that this was the job for me. Not only did it give me the chance to work in Central America (which had always been a personal goal of mine), but also to interact with a dynamic group of anthropologists, archaeologists, artists, linguists, and historians working in Guatemala. The best part of my job has been sharing all that I have learned to help create new and exciting experiences for other UT students who participate in Casa Herrera programs.
PB: What advice would you give to the newest graduates from the program?
MC: Be open to every opportunity and task that presents itself. Sometimes the most challenging situations can turn out to be the most transformative experiences.
Tell Me What You Think of Me, curated by alumna Leslie Moody Castro, on display
Mon. February 9, 2015
Leslie Moody Castro (MA in Art Education, 2010) presents Tell Me What You Think of Me at The University Galleries at Texas State University. The exhibition will be on display February 16 – March 13, 2015.