When Suzanne Westfall steps into the classroom, she’s driven to develop students’ appreciation of theater and the arts.
“I try to explore with them the expanse of the human spirit as it has expressed itself in the arts and sciences over the centuries, to show them that human beings in other times and places have faced the same questions, the same struggles,” says Westfall, professor of English/theater. “I want my students to stand on my shoulders, to find new ways to make their world more beautiful, more creative, more compassionate, and more socially and environmentally responsible for the next generations.”
Westfall is serving two years as the College’s interim director of the arts, tasked with enhancing the profile of Lafayette’s thriving arts programs on campus and beyond.
The position was created with a portion of an $800,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation, which is funding the START initiative to infuse arts throughout the curriculum. Lafayette is also in the midst of building the Williams Arts Campus on Third Street, which will house the theater and film & media studies programs. In addition, the College received a $450,000 Mellon grant last year to bring established and emerging choreographers to the classrooms, studios, and stages of member institutions of the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges.
Westfall administers portions of the Mellon grants to faculty, students, and community projects. One was the semester-long “Mathematics and Origami” works organized by Ethan Berkove, professor of mathematics, and Michiko Okaya, director of art galleries. Events included lectures, origami demonstrations, the Crease, Fold and Bend exhibit, a collaborative project building a sculpture out of business cards, and a folding workshop for students at March Elementary School.
This is also an excellent example of STEAM, the idea that the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields need the arts to flourish.
“Liberal arts institutions are in the business of educating the whole student, and the latest research shows that the humanities, social sciences, and arts enable students to develop the thinking, writing, and reading skills that lead to new ideas,” says Westfall. “Here at Lafayette we are fortunate to have a faculty that is rich in STEAM. We are equipped to cross train the brain, as our latest tag line suggests, and this cross-training leads to leadership, invention, and excellence in communication. We enlarge our students’ potential.”
Westfall used cross-training in the course Making Theater: On Aging, which she team-taught with Jamila Bookwala, professor of psychology. The class culminated with the student production of On Aging last spring. Stephanie Bateman ’13 documented the course and production and created projections and film used during the show through the EXCEL Scholars undergraduate research program.
Westfall helps students meet their potential by working with them one on one in research projects and abroad. (She has been leading study abroad programs in London since 1990.)
International affairs major Andy Muñoz ’15 (New York, N.Y.) is working with Westfall this semester on several projects, including crafting an edition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Internet Shakespeare Editions. Several students have assisted her over the years in creating a modern-spelling edition of the play from Shakespeare’s First Folio.
“It’s great to teach students how professional editors work–maybe a future career for some–and to watch them gain skills and interests that make them better readers and scholars,” says Westfall. “Our undergraduates get opportunities that they would never get at universities; they do the work of students in master’s and Ph.D. programs. Such work is fresh and new to students, and their enthusiasm brings me back to my own student days.”