RCAH graduates return for 2016 alumni panel

Story by RCAH student Christina Igl.

RCAH welcomed five alumni home to speak at the third installment of the Wednesday Night Live 2016-2017 series on Wednesday, November 9, 2016. The annual alumni panel serves as both an insider look on post-RCAH life as well as a homecoming for alumni. This year, the alumni panel consisted of graduates from the first RCAH class, Fiona Avocado ’11, Tyler Fleming ’11, and Zack Bissell ’11, as well as newer RCAH alumnae Julia Kramer ’13 and Sarah Fagerman ’15.

Since graduation, Fiona Avocado has been heavily involved in the arts. She earned a Comics and Graphic Novels Certificate from the Independent Publishing Resource Center to support her passion for comics, zines, illustrations, and prints and is now an arts educator and organizer. She still continues to create her own art at her studio in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Avocado’s zines and prints “are a political act” that engages her as the artist in addition to the viewer in political discourse. Avocado has also continued to use her experience in civic engagement as an RCAH student in her professional life. She has been involved in many youth organizations and is also a core organizer of the Twin Cities Zine Fest.

Tyler Fleming identifies as a student, teacher, mover, and doer. Fleming founded the Movement Hive, whose mission is to “Educate and empower a community of movers and doers to move better, grow stronger and have more fun as we build a world that serves and sustains people and the planet.” His civic engagement work with Indigenous youth during his time in RCAH sparked his interest in working with youth and eventually brought him to the Detroit Teacher Project where he got his master certification in education and now teaches a holistic approach to health education in Detroit.    

Zack Bissell is the Out-of-School Arts Manager at Living Arts Detroit. Bissell served with AmeriCorps in New Mexico working in HIV prevention and education and taught English in Korea for 7 months. While in Korea, he utilized the RCAH approach to teaching and learning which differed from the traditional Korean teaching style, but helped the students learn English. Bissell has also been able to use his experiences in RCAH to aid him in his current position which involves languages (he uses Spanish daily), cultures, arts, community engagement and empowerment, service-learning, education, and the humanities. His passion for the arts was a large part of his life as an RCAH student and caused Bissell to co-found RCAHppella.    

Julia Kramer discovered her passion for food systems work in her RCAH 292 class which worked with the Urbandale Farms. Kramer is now manager of the Allen Farmers Market at the Allen Neighborhood Center (ANC) in Lansing. Community development, capacity building, and place-making are concepts Kramer used in her RCAH curriculum and are concepts that she now uses in her work at the ANC. Kramer also connected with the idea of achieving social justice through food via her RCAH experience and includes that concept in her decision making at ANC. Kramer also has an alumna profile with more information about her time in and after RCAH.    

The newest RCAH alumna, Sarah Fagerman, is the Community Engagement Coordinator (AmeriCorps VISTA) at the Center for Community Arts Partnerships at Columbia College Chicago. Fagerman was introduced to the impact of arts education, partnership-building, experiential learning, and collaborative arts programing with her involvement with Art@Work, her civic engagement experience in RCAH.

Fagerman remembers the uncertainty that came with leaving the RCAH community which became like a family to her. She also advises current students to “cherish the undergrad experience because it goes by quickly.” Fostering relationships with professors and taking advantage of the experiences and resources within RCAH and MSU were also important to Fagerman since a recommendation from Guillermo Delgado, RCAH Academic Specialist in Community & Socially Engaged Arts, helped her land her current position.

After each panelist spoke about their experiences in RCAH and finding their career path, the panel opened up to questions from current RCAH students. The final question of the evening was about navigating the uncertain times after graduation. Every alumnus agreed that their education within the RCAH was well worth the time they spent and greatly influenced their careers. They also agreed that the skills and experiences RCAH offers to students are the skills and experiences that employers are looking for. Fleming reflected on his own post-graduation experience of feeling a little lost. He said, “When you find the one thing that eats at you, you’ll find a way to tie it into your career.”

Kramer added some advice for recent graduates: “Keep educating yourself. Education doesn’t stop here. It can’t.”

The RCAH alumni value their RCAH educations because, as Fleming noted in closing, “there’s power in our ideas, in our minds, and in our art.”      

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