Millikin University - Decatur, IL
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Educational podcasting has developed into a useful way for students and faculty to teach and learn. Content can include audio and video, but what about using it to instruct dance courses?

Angela Miller, Millikin assistant professor of theatre and dance, and Ariana Shelton, a senior dance student and marketing major from Oreana, Ill., are working together on developing innovative teaching resources to be used in dance courses at Millikin. The collaboration is part of Millikin University's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Program.

Shelton is assisting Miller with video documenting dance course exercises. They plan to use the footage to create podcasts to which students can refer throughout Miller's technique dance courses in ballet, modern, jazz and tap. Links to the podcasts will be available on Moodle, an open-source learning management system, so that students can review course material anytime, anywhere.

"Dance courses typically do not employ a textbook," said Miller. "Typical note-taking techniques by both students and faculty can document to a certain degree of effectiveness, but with video documentation, students can have a more comprehensive study aide for use inside and outside the studio."

Several of Miller's course exercises are geared toward the specific needs of Millikin dance students, many of whom are learning dance as adult beginners. Miller's advanced courses often include a mix of dancers who have been training their whole lives and dancers who have had a few semesters of training.

Miller noted, "We started with ballet exercises and things I tend to repeat in my courses that are the backbone of what I think builds a strong dancer. Once we are done documenting ballet, then we will move on and look at exercises that I think make a strong jazz dancer, tap dancer and so on."

Ariana Shelton grew up dancing in studios in the Decatur area and trained mainly with the Springfield Ballet Company. She was selected for the fellowship because of her excellence in both the technical and performative aspects of dance. She also teaches dance at the Dance Centre in Decatur.

"It's an honor to be involved with the project and to have the opportunity to help grow the dance program at Millikin," said Shelton. "The project is especially important for dance students because they have midterms and finals that cover dance combinations. They can use the podcasts for practice."

Once the podcasts have been created and shared, Miller plans to present the research at conferences hosted by the American College Dance Association (ACDA) and the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO).

"Video documenting has developed but I don't think it will replace one-on-one teaching," said Miller. "Having the teacher provide the physical corrections for the dancers is always going to be important. However, I see the podcasts as a way to share and to inspire other teachers to think about teaching dance combinations another way."

Miller says she sees potential for broadcasting the podcasts more widely, whether through a standard industry publisher or through her own website.

"I am interested in learning the advantages and disadvantages of podcasting versus uploading videos to a public host," said Miller. "Creating podcasts for key elements in my courses will be a valuable resource for current students. If a student in any discipline is interested in pursuing the dance minor and they want to know what style of ballet, modern, jazz or tap Millikin teaches, the best way for them to understand it is by seeing it themselves."

From a hands-on learning point of view, Miller says, "It's taking an art form and creating a concrete product that we can then share with a third-party stakeholder, whether it's a prospective student or a dance studio. It's taking something that happens all the time in the classroom and making it accessible to a wider audience."

Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program (SURF)

Millikin's SURF Program pairs a student with a faculty member to perform in-depth research throughout the summer months. An example of Performance Learning, the research is one of the "graduate level" opportunities undergraduates experience at Millikin.

The 2015 SURF Program features Millikin students and faculty across multiple disciplines conducting research and collaboratively building new academic ground. This summer, three SURF fellowships were granted.

Millikin University's Department of Mathematics provides Performance Learning opportunities for students who intend to pursue graduate studies in mathematics, apply mathematics to other areas, become actuaries or teach mathematics.

Recent Millikin graduate Hailee Peck, from Livermore, Calif., and John Spaw, a senior from Lake in the Hills, Ill., have gained valuable academic experiences at Millikin by engaging in mathematics research.

Both presented their research at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Antonio, Texas, back in January, and both presented at the Midwest Undergraduate Mathematics Symposium at Simpson College held April 10-11.

After earning her Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics, Peck received a number of graduate program offers and accepted a teaching assistantship at the University of Minnesota, where she will study mathematical biology.

Spaw will spend the summer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he will engage in mathematics research. This will be Spaw's second summer mathematics research experience, having spent last summer at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo.
The end of the academic year is a time of reflection in terms of recognizing the efforts of student work. Those efforts were featured during Millikin University's Celebrations of Scholarship (COS) on April 24. The day of scholarship provided a public forum for people to hear and see the results of Millikin students' creative projects.

Multiple disciplines of research and discovery were covered across Millikin's campus representing the College of Arts & Sciences, Fine Arts, Professional Studies and Tabor School of Business. The event also featured the 22nd COS Poster Symposium held on the second and third floors of Shilling Hall.

Among the diverse topics was the English Language Center's (ELC) presentation on "Enhancing Cross-Cultural Awareness," held in Shilling Hall. The presenters included international students Hyunsuk Jung, from South Korea; Coraline Beau, from France; Mouna Boutra, from France; and Yuliana Gomez-Canturias, from Peru.

The students presented their findings of interviews conducted in their American Studies course. Their project focused on cross-cultural awareness through a comparison and contrast of American culture and the cultures of France, Peru, and Korea.

Attendees learned perspectives on noteworthy similarities and differences between various cultures. Many of the values the international students presented on included family, religion and hard work.

"I thought their presentation was professional, and the fact that they were able to present in their second language was very impressive," said Julie Lauper, Millikin English Language Center adjunct faculty member. "I thought it was interesting how they were able to analyze their research and reflect on it."

Brandy Barter-Storm, interim director of the English Language Center, added, "They gained a deeper understanding of true American culture. They also saw how some of the values don't always match-up with reality. I think this was a great example of Performance Learning because they had so many steps to go through leading up to the presentation – it's very authentic."

In the Leighty-Tabor Science Center, John Blakeman, a graduate student in the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) nurse educator track at Millikin, presented on "Prodromal Myocardial Infarction Symptoms Experienced by Women."

Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States, and myocardial infarction is a significant contributor to sickness and mortality in women. The purpose of Blakeman's review was to identify studies that describe prodromal symptoms in women and to examine this body of evidence in order to make recommendations and provide findings with significant implications for nursing.

When asked about having the opportunity to present, Blakeman said, "I think it's tremendously important especially in nursing. Dissemination is sort of that capstone at the end of the research process. So many times students perform all the steps of the research, but they never get to disseminate, and being able to actually present gives those students practice."

Blakeman currently works at Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, Ill. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Millikin University in 2013, and earned several awards during his undergraduate tenure including the Dr. J. Roger Miller Leadership Award and the Scovill Prize.

In January 2015, Blakeman released his first book, "Learning from Patients: My Life as a Student Nurse."

Blakeman added, "For me, this is my fifth presentation at Celebrations of Scholarship and all of those presentations have helped me build my ability to present. Having so many people that are interested helps you see the change that you can make."

Later in the day at Shilling Hall, student Ramey Sola, a junior human services major from Champaign, Ill., presented an introduction to her James Millikin Scholar (JMS) project called "Barks for Books."

"Barks for Books" is a program that will partner with Dennis Lab School to allow children to read to therapy dogs in order to improve literacy skills.

"In result, it will hopefully improve literacy skills as well as emotional and behavioral attributes," said Sola. "I'm interested in this particular research because I aspire to get my social work license, and I would like to use therapy animals in the field that I'm working in to provide services to my clientele. Being able to incorporate all these passions into one project would be a great experience."

In terms of how the program is applied, Sola says, "Dogs don't convey judgement and they can't correct a child if they make a mistake while reading. The children don't have that fear of making a mistake to begin with and that in itself reduces anxiety."

Millikin Provost Dr. Jeffery Aper said Millikin's Celebrations of Scholarship is "our way of inviting everyone to see and hear from students who have accomplished a lot in their time at Millikin, and have gone far above and beyond traditional classroom learning because of our commitment to Performance Learning."

Poster Symposium

Lighting and stage design are areas of theatre that bring out the dynamics of a production and help guide the audience through everything created on stage. Broadway Lighting Designer Marcia Madeira emphasized the importance of those aspects while instructing theatre students during a residency at Millikin University in April.

Throughout her visit, Madeira worked with students on a number of topics and assisted with lighting and stage design for Millikin's production of "And The World Goes 'Round," a musical revue featuring the songs of John Kander and Fred Ebb from shows such as "Chicago" and "Cabaret." Performances were held April 24-26.

"It was fun visiting with classes and working with the students," said Madeira. "The students were eager and they were very excited to see demonstrations of colors and lights on fabrics, showing them what happens, and what works and doesn't work." 

A Tony Award-nominated Lighting Designer, Madeira also won the Drama Desk Award for "Nine," starring Raul Julia and directed by Tommy Tune. Madeira's other Broadway designs include "The Music Man" with Dick Van Dyke, directed and choreographed by Michael Kidd, and "Marilyn, An American Fable" with Allison Reed and Scott Bakula. Her career in lighting design has spanned 50 years.

"We had a great opportunity to work with costumes," said Madeira. "When you put costumes under a stage light, certain color differences show up even more than in daylight, you don't see it as much until you put various colors on stage."

Sean Morrissey, interim chair of Millikin's Department of Theatre and Dance, added, "I think our students gained valuable experiences from this residency. The performers were inspired and excited by the lighting, as well as the students who had the opportunity to work directly with Marcia and collaborate with her on the process." 

For the production of "And The World Goes 'Round," Madeira worked with four Millikin students who programmed the light board, two student-assistants who recorded the spotlight cues, and the stage manager.

One of the students who worked with Madeira was Therese O'Shaughnessy, a junior design and production major from Oswego, Ill. O'Shaughnessy says the experience was helpful in understanding the business. "To work with a professional that's been in the industry so long is incredible. Marcia knows the business and it's always nice to learn from someone that has that experience. She taught me a lot about color mixing, and watching her thinking process was very helpful because she knows so much about design and programming." 

In addition to sharing her expertise on stage design, Madeira visited several Millikin classes to speak about the entrepreneurial approach freelance artists must take toward managing their careers.

"In other classes, I would ask the students about what type of lighting they would use on certain paintings," said Madeira. "We would then shine the colors on the paintings to teach the students to see the whole picture and understand where to focus. It was a good process and it was an interesting challenge." 

Madeira has also developed Ice Show Lighting Designs for Royal Caribbean Cruises. She designed numerous regional theatre productions for The Huntington Theatre in Boston, Mass.; The Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, Pa.; Studio Arena Theatre in Buffalo, N.Y.; and The Alliance in Atlanta, Ga.

Tiffaney Beachy, a senior design and production major from Washington Terrace, Utah, said, "It was a wonderful learning experience both on the electrician side of things as well as design. Working alongside Marcia and seeing the logic and artistic reasons for why we used specific colors and certain intensities made this experience unlike any other."

Dr. Tony Magagna, Millikin University assistant professor of English, is taking literary analysis to new heights on campus. Traditional literature is advancing, due in part to technology, and Dr. Magagna is researching ways to study literature with the use of new media.

These efforts and contributions to Performance Learning haven't gone unnoticed as Dr. Magagna was named the recipient of Millikin's 2015 Teaching Excellence Award. The award was presented to Dr. Magagna at the conclusion of Millikin's Interdisciplinary Faculty Conference (MIFC) on Feb. 20.

"The Teaching Excellence Award was developed some years back as a way of recognizing outstanding teaching in a tangible way," said Dr. Jeffery Aper, Millikin provost. "The intent of the award has been to not only encourage outstanding teaching, but to recognize the high quality of work."

The award, first presented in 2003, is given to a faculty member who best exemplifies the ideas and practices that can be employed to demonstrate teaching excellence. Criteria for the award include: teaching philosophy, evidence of student learning and innovation.

"It was quite a shock to learn that I had won the award because there are so many excellent teachers at Millikin," said Dr. Magagna. "The selection committee, especially this year, put a greater emphasis on Performance Learning in its decision, and it's not always easy to incorporate literary analysis with Performance Learning."

The Teaching Excellence Award selection committee was made up of seven past award recipients. Dr. Eric Roark, Millikin associate professor of philosophy, was chairman of the committee.

"Dr. Magagna gets a great response from students, but his colleagues also respond to him very positively because he always has good ideas and insights," said Dr. Aper. "In a lot of ways, his selection for this award reflects exactly the kind of ideals that this award was designed to support."

When asked how he incorporates Performance Learning with his classes, Dr. Magagna says, "In the last few years, there's been a lot of boundary-breaking that's occurred between the digital world and the literary world, and I've tried to fold that into a lot of my classes – for example, taking literary scholarship and turning it into a digital case book."

In addition to the Teaching Excellence Award, Dr. Magagna was recently selected for the Warren G. Hardy Professorship of English. Throughout the two-year endowed professorship, Dr. Magagna will conduct research on ways media and technology influence literature, and how literature will be defined in the 21st century.

"Part of what I'm proposing is to both research and build curricula around the intersection of digital media and literary studies," said Dr. Magagna. "A lot of our talented and younger writers might gravitate towards writing for video games, which is something people might never have considered. From my perspective, new narrative expressions are occurring in digital spaces that we don't recognize at all or dismiss, and I think it's worth looking at."

Dr. Magagna will divide his research into three parts: literature that takes on the digital age as a subject matter; new forms of narrative that utilize new media and technology to tell stories; and ways people can teach or study both new literature and traditional literature using new media tools.

Based on the outcomes of his research, Dr. Magagna hopes to develop a new course at Millikin tentatively entitled "Hybrid Literatures."

Dr. Magagna adds, "It's important to embrace and recognize some of these aspects that are occurring because the worlds that our students know, and the reflections of those worlds, are occurring in media that we don't often bring into the classroom, and I'm trying to bring those things together."

The unique experience of a Millikin University education is centered on Performance Learning. It was the topic during Millikin's fifth annual Interdisciplinary Faculty Conference (MIFC) held Feb. 20 on Millikin's campus.

The conference featured 25 breakout sessions presented by more than 40 Millikin faculty members. The event not only provided a chance for attendees to share their thoughts on advancing Performance Learning, but gave faculty members an opportunity to learn from one another and celebrate academic achievements.

"During last year's conference, we tried to develop our understanding of Performance Learning and this year's conference was more of a continuation," said Dr. J. Mark Munoz, Millikin professor of international management and conference chairman. "We wanted individual faculty members to present on their experiences with Performance Learning. The presentations were divided into three tracks: In the Classroom, Outside the Classroom and University Based Advances. It allowed faculty to listen to the best practices pertaining to Performance Learning." 

Among the breakout sessions was Dr. Stephen Frech's presentation on "Performance Learning as a Hybrid Pedagogy." Dr. Frech, chair of Millikin's English Department, emphasized four key points during his presentation on how he uses Hybrid Pedagogy in his courses: workshop, studio, internship and apprenticeship.

"Student work can be produced outside the classroom, much like a workshop, but it can also be produced during class," said Dr. Frech. "You get to see work through processing and we're providing feedback throughout the class. These are four different models of learning, and I had to learn how to incorporate these types of methods while teaching." 

Brandon Hensley, adjunct instructor in the Communication Department, shared insight into what students learn as a member of a research team.

"What we found out from this research is that students are building interpersonal skills," said Hensley. "These are skills students use to work with diverse teams and hear diverse perspectives. What stands out is that it's not always about publishing research – it's the process. The students emphasized a lot about being a good team player and the importance of collaboration."

Jamie Nickell, instructor of nursing, and Dr. Jo Carter, associate professor of nursing, shared how Millikin nursing undergraduates tried to improve the health of the local community through innovative social marketing. Teams of Millikin nursing students in a senior capstone course reached out to a target audience to raise awareness of healthy behavior by using many platforms, including social media.

"The culture of health professions, specifically nursing, involves helping students recognize situations accurately," said Dr. Carter. "One of the biggest challenges for health providers these days is to help people adopt healthy behaviors. This project gave students the opportunity to learn how to use behavior change techniques to promote health."

RJ Podeschi and Ed Weber, assistant professors of information systems, shared examples of applying Performance Learning in information systems through various course projects, including campus-based activities and working with local companies. 

"Several of the projects that we've worked on are based on building database applications," said Podeschi. "One of our courses provides a great platform for students to see how databases are built from the ground-up, and how organizations are able to get information through reports and through user interface."

Prior to the breakout sessions, keynote speaker Dr. Marcia Mentkowski, senior scholar for educational research and professor emerita of psychology at Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wis., addressed Millikin faculty and guests on "Conceptualizing Performance Learning."

The conference concluded with a time capsule ceremony in Kaeuper Hall, Perkinson Music Center. Items that were placed in the time capsule included current pictures, student projects, Millikin marketing materials and CDs from the Millikin University Percussion Ensemble, Latin Jazz Project and University Choir. Millikin University President Dr. Patrick E. White presented a speech on a vision for Millikin in the next 100 years.

When asked how the conference has grown over the last few years, Dr. Mark Munoz says, "It's become a day for the faculty. It's evolved from a simple conference into something that we can all learn and grow from, and continue to build."

Millikin University's New Musicals Workshop is a program that provides theatre students unique collaboration opportunities to work with writers and build professional experience. During this year's workshop, held Jan. 16-18, students were coached and accompanied by guest artist Andrew Lippa, a Tony and Grammy Award-nominated composer and lyricist.

Lippa worked with 16 Millikin students on a variety of his own musical compositions. Throughout the workshop, Millikin students engaged in master classes and performed alongside Lippa during a cabaret performance in Kaeuper Hall on Jan. 18.

"The Andrew Lippa residency was Performance Learning at its finest," said Sean Morrissey, Millikin interim chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance. "Over a three-day period, Millikin students not only learned from, but also collaborated and performed with a world-class artist in a retrospective presentation of his work. Through these types of collaborations, students begin building relationships that will be invaluable to them when transitioning into the professional marketplace."

Lippa wrote the Drama Desk Award-nominated music and lyrics for the musical "Big Fish" which recently played Broadway's Neil Simon Theatre. Lippa also wrote the Tony Award-nominated music and lyrics for the Broadway musical "The Addams Family" which has appeared on tour in the U.S. and is an international success. Millikin's Department of Theatre and Dance will be presenting "The Addams Family" as part of its 2015-2016 production season in November.

"It's great to see the students really reaching for something a little bit deeper when performing and to find the emotional truth in themselves," said Lippa. "It's a gratifying experience to see the students working hard at growing and learning how to be better human beings."

Lippa's songs have been recorded by such esteemed artists as Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, Nathan Lane, Norbert Leo Butz, Julia Murney and Peter Cincotti. Lippa served as music director and conductor for Kristin Chenoweth's sold-out shows at the Metropolitan Opera House, Carnegie Hall (2004) and the Donmar Warehouse in London as well as with the San Francisco, Chicago, and St. Louis Symphony Orchestras. 

Lippa added, "I want the students to learn that being an artist is a lifelong job and that you have to keep asking questions, reinventing yourself, and pushing yourself to be better."

"Something that Andrew emphasized several times while he worked with us was the importance of allowing the music to serve the acting choices within a song," said Ryan Hickey, a junior theatre major from Galesburg, Ill. "He said that the music comes second to the story, and coming from a composer, that was quite surprising. He said that he writes his music with as much freedom for the performer as possible. This served as a tremendous reminder to treat each song as a marriage of the acting and the musicality, creating something that best tells the character's and my own story."

In reference to the cabaret performance, Hickey says the students gained invaluable insight into the music from which it was created.

"The cabaret was a wonderful presentation of the cannon of Andrew Lippa material," said Hickey. "I loved that the songs he gave us to work with and those that we chose on our own really represented a great portion of the last 20 years of his work. Getting to work with a composer on his own work was both a daunting and exciting experience. He constantly challenged us to dig deeper and to find new things to play with in not only his songs, but in any songs we choose to perform." 

Andrew Lippa's appearance was made possible by a Millikin University Performance Learning Enhancement Grant (PLEG). Performance Learning Enhancement Grants were initiated by Millikin University during the 2012-2013 academic year as a means of supporting new initiatives to identify and enhance Performance Learning within academic programs.

Lexis Danca, a senior musical theatre major from Crystal Lake, Ill., added, "The New Musicals Workshop is an incredible program. The fact that we are able to learn from artists, like Andrew Lippa, makes the workshop important in terms of building experience and connections."

Take songwriting, musicianship, engineering and marketing, and put it all together at once in a class setting and the result is Studio Pressure Night. 

Millikin University's Studio Pressure Night course, led by Dr. David Burdick, associate professor of music, encompasses everything about the recording industry. The course provides real-world experiences for vocalists and commercial music majors, whether as songwriters, producers or artists. 

Each class period is a recording session where students take on a particular role to produce a song and market a student artist. Referred to as the "Semester of Soul," last semester's class recorded cover songs from legendary artists such as Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Ray Charles and Otis Redding.

"The course is building into a production company that serves student artists," said Dr. Burdick. "Part of the experience is to build up the vibe factor, so that when students leave Studio Pressure Night and perform live, they would have already had an image."

Dr. Burdick says the course has turned into a business, and includes teams of students that work on social media and marketing aspects as well as licensing and distribution.

"The students are researching all the commercial options for digital distribution of our product," said Dr. Burdick. "It's great to put student teams together to do this type of work. What you will find from the students is that there is only collective glory."

The social media and marketing students created a Studio Pressure Night Facebook fanpage that highlights the student artists and recording sessions through online video features.

"Studio Pressure Night is geared toward making a product," said Tyler Hollis, a junior commercial music major from Crystal Lake, Ill. "It's a fulfilling experience – the musicians, artists and producers get a lot out of it."

As a guitarist in Studio Pressure Night, Hollis emphasized the importance of creating a good rhythm section and performing well during recording sessions.

"In a literal sense of Performance Learning, we are performing and it's all about the artist," said Hollis. "The course has provided me a confidence boost in being able to sit down and provide a competent recording track. I'm glad Studio Pressure Night is able to provide the different avenues of either a studio musician or producer."

Historically, the course has been held at Millikin for over a decade and was initially for instrumentalists. The course has expanded into a training platform for artists. Last semester, over 20 Millikin students were enrolled in Studio Pressure Night. 

"The course shows how complex recording can be, but it also shows how to make music professionally," said Jacob Dinardo, a senior commercial music major from Rochester, Ill. "It covers everything that we hear as musicians and we put it in motion. Thinking on the fly as a musician or using your arranging skills to put together a chart, this course takes all of it and puts it together in one night."

Dr. Burdick added, "We are building this course, and by building it, it's tailored to what we do, how we want to do it and what we want to be. We are reaching the public on our terms."

Developing and presenting research is all part of the Performance Learning experience for students at Millikin University. For senior Lindsay Tipsword, a social science secondary teaching major from Decatur, Ill., the opportunity to share her history research in a professional environment as an undergraduate was unique.

Tipsword presented her own original research in front of an audience of scholars and historians at the 16th annual Conference on Illinois History, held Sept. 25-26 at the Prairie Capital Convention Center and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, Ill.

"Typically, students don't present at conferences until graduate school; she did a great job," said Dr. Dan Monroe, Millikin associate professor of history and chair of the Department of History and Political Science. "Presenting research can be difficult, but Lindsay went beyond expectations and even took questions from the audience."

The Conference on Illinois History is the state's largest meeting devoted to the history of the Prairie State. This year's conference included 20 paper sessions that featured topics such as politics, Abraham Lincoln, Route 66, archaeology, and the Civil War; one film; eight workshops; and three panel discussions.

Tipsword's research was featured during a panel discussion on "Millikin University in Times of War," moderated by Dr. Dan Monroe. She was the only undergraduate to present during the panel.

The panel discussion covered specific topics of research including "Millikin University and World War I" by Dr. Timothy Kovalcik, Millikin associate professor of history, and "The Growth of Political Consciousness on the Millikin University Campus" by Dr. Brian Mullgardt, Millikin assistant professor of history. Tipsword's work highlighted "African-American Identity and Millikin University" from 1966-1972.

"My research covers different issues on campus that happened during that time period with the African-American student population," said Tipsword. "It was very interesting to look through the archives to see what was happening back then. It was interesting to see how their philosophy on campus was growing."

Tipsword went through old issues of the Decaturian, Millikin's student newspaper, to gather her research.

In reference to working alongside Millikin faculty members, Tipsword said, "It was an incredible opportunity to showcase my work and collaborate with Dr. Kovalcik and Dr. Mullgardt. To be on stage and discuss the different aspects of our research was quite an experience."

Dr. Mullgardt added, "From beginning to end, Lindsay created the topic, performed her own work, and is being mentored in the process of becoming an historian."

"In essence, Lindsay is the perfect example of Performance Learning. She is working on real research," said Dr. Monroe. "Prior to the conference, Lindsay presented her research in front of fellow students and faculty, and they offered suggestions for improvement. It was a great way for her to become comfortable before presenting at the conference."

When asked what she learned from the experience, Tipsword said, "It was great to learn how to present yourself professionally, and also have the opportunity to hear from other historians and make connections. The more you're able to present, the more you're able to get your work out to the public. As an undergrad, an experience such as this stands out especially if you're preparing for graduate school."

Dr. Timothy Kovalcik says Tipsword's experience demonstrates the goal of Millikin's History program – wanting graduates to become professional historians.

"Lindsay is doing professional work and that's the key," said Dr. Kovalcik. "The whole point of Performance Learning is that a third party is invested and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency has been very receptive to the work of Millikin students on different levels."

Creating furniture that is simple, practical, and original. That is the goal of Sincerely Pigeon Studio, a home décor and furniture business started by Millikin University alumnae Laramie Street '10 and Rayanna Martin '12.

Located in the Heroic Age Arts Center in Mt. Zion, Ill., Sincerely Pigeon was launched in June 2014. The studio creates handmade wood furniture and offers a variety of décor options from interior space design to commissioned artwork.

"I had always enjoyed home furnishings and Rayanna enjoys upholstering her own ottomans," said Street. "We became good friends after graduation, and we thought it would be a great idea to combine my welding work with her woodworking. We started coming up with end table and ottoman designs this past January, and then decided to start the business."

The most intriguing aspect of the business is the local connection. Street and Martin deny the use of prefabricated materials and composite woods, and instead use real wood from trees in Macon, Ill., to create their furniture. They also use raw steel and fabricate everything by hand.

"For every design we try to make, we put it on paper and then submit it to our customers, we try to make it as open as possible," said Street. "We want people to be able to interact with what we are doing."

Martin added, "It's great to be able to share our creativity with the local community and establish connections. When you work with local people and artists, everyone benefits."

In just a short amount of time, Sincerely Pigeon has not only earned local success, but has garnered national recognition. The studio was recently named a 2014 Design Finalist for Martha Stewart's 2014 American Made Awards.

American Made is a program made up of people and communities that have turned their passion for quality craftsmanship and well-designed goods into a way of life. The American Made Awards honor makers, small-business owners, and creative entrepreneurs in the fields of crafts, design, food, and style. The executive editorial team of Martha Stewart Living served as category judges and oversaw the selection process.

"We were shocked to find out that we were finalists," said Street. "We saw that many of the finalists were from the east and west coasts, and not many were from the central Illinois area. The support from the local community has been great."

Martin added, "With all the different businesses in larger markets, it was unbelievable that we were selected as finalists, it's really exciting."

Laramie Street earned her bachelor's degree in studio art from Millikin in 2010. While at Millikin, she studied drawing, printmaking, and metal sculpture. Prior to Sincerely Pigeon, Street worked for her family's business, a diesel truck and heavy equipment repair shop, which gave her access to metal and welding. She currently welds table bases and lamp bases for the studio.

Rayanna Martin graduated from Millikin with a bachelor's degree in theatre in 2012. While at Millikin, Martin learned about every aspect of theatre, from set design to costumes and make up. The woodworker of the business partnership, Martin builds ottoman bases, table tops, and benches.

Martin says their most popular products have been anything developed through live edge wood. "We've started to lean more toward developing furniture with live edge wood. We work with a local sawmill to pick out the trees that we want and have those lumbered for us. I think the customers enjoy the fact that the furniture they purchase comes from the local area."

When asked how her experience at Millikin played a role in her current business venture, Street says, "The tools that I got when I was in my studio environment at Millikin helped me understand what I needed to do to develop my career. There are many students in the studio art program that want to make their own job, and Millikin helps prepare students for those opportunities. Programs at Millikin, like Blue Connection, always encourage students that owning a business is possible."

For more information on Sincerely Pigeon Studio, visit
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Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University - Decatur, IL