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Moving fashion forward at ASU

Phoenix Art Museum curator Dennita Sewell bringing fashion to ASU.
Forget "Project Runway" — ASU can help you find the style.
ASU fashioning a new degree program with Phoenix Art Museum curator at the head.
February 22, 2016

Phoenix Art Museum curator Dennita Sewell to help develop new fashion degree program in School of Art

Dennita Sewell, curator of fashion design at Phoenix Art Museum, currently oversees one of the premier collections of fashion in the country with more than 7,000 pieces dating from the 18th century to the present.

Soon, she will be sharing her expertise in fashion with Arizona State University students as well.

Sewell (pictured above), who earned an MFA in costume design from Yale University and worked in collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art before taking on her current role at Phoenix Art Museum in 2000, is taking on an additional title as the head of the brand-new bachelor's in fashion program in the ASU School of ArtThe School of Art is part of ASU's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts..

Beginning in fall 2017, ASU students will be able to major in fashion through the School of Art by taking classes across the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts on topics ranging from fibers to wearable technology to interior design.

“We are thrilled to have Dennita Sewell as the head of our Bachelor of Arts in fashion program,” said Adriene Jenik, director of the School of Art. “Her commitment to excellence, innovation and education have been evident throughout her career at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Phoenix Art Museum. I can't imagine a better person to lead our program and help our students imagine, design and create the future of fashion as they engage across the Herberger Institute and other research units at ASU.”

The degree program is still in development, but the future looks bright with Sewell on board. During her career, she has taught fashion classes at Pratt Institute, presented lectures around the world and put together exhibitions that have garnered international attention.

As head of the bachelor's in fashion, Sewell will bring an art historical context and global framework to help forge connections to fashion industry professionals and experts in the field.

“The appreciation of fashion has been a lifelong passion for me,” said Sewell. “I am excited to be a part of engaging Arizona State University’s new fashion program with the extraordinary resources of Phoenix Art Museum’s Fashion Design collection and its active program of lectures by fashion industry professionals. My goal is to expose students to the broadest range of ideas and career paths while fostering a discerning understanding of fashion.”

“We are building a truly unique fashion degree program that will tap into the resources and knowledge of a global research university and a national museum with strong leadership in this area,” said Steven Tepper, dean of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. “Our students will be exposed to the leading edge of fashion — from the science of materials, to fabrication, history, business, industry and design. We are lucky to have Dennita Sewell’s expertise as we grow this popular degree. Fashion is a $1.2 billion global industry, and the number of fashion professionals has grown more than 50 percent in the past 10 years. We are eager to prepare students for this growing part of our economy.”    

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ASU study shows lab courses benefit faculty, as well as students

Lab courses with real research keep faculty intellectually involved, too.
February 22, 2016

Labs offering real research create hands-on experience for students and produce actual data professors can use

The benefits of letting students conduct real research in the classroom have been examined multiple times during the past decade, but a new study involving researchers at Arizona State University is the first to show what faculty have to gain from the new teaching method.

The study, published in BioScience, is built around the idea that faculty members have three options when designing a lab course — “cookbook” labs, inquiry-based labs and course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs).

Sara Brownell, an assistant professor in the School of Life Sciences, said that while the pre-designed, right-or-wrong nature of cookbook labs has long been proven to be an inadequate teaching method, researchers are still exploring whether inquiry-based labs or CUREs should replace them. Brownell describes the difference between them as one of function. Whereas both task students with exploring a specific question using personally designed experimentation, only CUREs create data that faculty members can actually use for their own research.

“An example I like to give for inquiry-based courses is, if you tried to figure out what bacteria is on your shoe right now, you swab it, grow it and try to identify it — and it’s new to you,” Brownell said. “That could be really cool to you as a student, but no one outside the classroom really cares about that.”

CUREs, alternatively, are designed by the faculty member teaching the lab to focus on their personal research projects. According to Brownell, this method offers students a chance to learn about the scientific process through hands-on experiences, but also provides faculty with data they can use.

“Between teaching, research and service, there are just not enough hours in the day for most faculty,” Brownell said. “So, they have to make decisions about where to put more or less time — and you’re always kind of letting someone down.”

By giving professors dozens of extra hands to help gather or analyze valuable data, Brownell said they aren’t forced to choose between focusing on teaching or research.

Other benefits of CUREs include increased grant funding and improved relationships between teachers and students — who behave more like the peers they would be in a real-world setting. CUREs also contribute positively to promotions and tenure-track positions by demonstrating innovative teaching skills.

In addition to this, Brownell said faculty admit to enjoying CUREs better from a teaching method because it keeps them intellectually involved. Though it isn’t measurable, Brownell said that study participants claimed their jobs felt better when teaching CUREs.

However, Brownell said there are a few challenges to a CURE lab.

First and foremost, logistics can be complex. If the lab requires students to leave campus, faculty must have a way to get them to the field site. Also, since students work at different paces and may conduct different experiments, faculty members must adjust to varied needs in terms of guidance.

Time and cost are also factors, according to Brownell, as CURE labs require more effort and money to create. Sometimes the financial needs necessitate outside grant funding or institutional buy-in, neither of which are guaranteed.

Brownell does plan to address these obstacles in the next step of her research by collecting data on CURE courses already taught at institutions around the country. Then, after her team analyzes what makes them successful, professors interested in creating their own CURE labs will have guidelines to follow.

Top photo: Freshman Natalia Thompson works in ASU assistant professor Arianne Cease’s locust lab, which focuses on understanding how human-plant-insect interactions affect the sustainability of agricultural systems around the world. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Jason Krell

Communication and events coordinator , Center for Evolution and Medicine