The Real Value of a Scholarship
By Israel Davis, Assistant Professor of Sculpture, Ceramics
When I look back on my education in the visual arts, I often recollect the unique experiences I’ve had along the way. As I consider what I’ve learned from each school that I attended, what stick out are the awards that those institutions afforded me, awards that often came in the form of scholarships.
Upon a Google search of the definition of scholarship, what pops up is this:
1. Academic study or achievement; learning at a high level.
2. A grant or payment made to support a student’s education, awarded on the basis of academic or other achievement.
Academic study and achievement are certainly subjects of interest at any university. Many students who attend them apply for the subsidy of grants and scholarships. As a student I applied for my share of the awards. However, I was unable to complete my education without student loans. Looking back, I have no regrets about paying back the loans, because for me, the financial details of my education were not the most important.
Really, it was the experience and opportunities that my education provided me. And it was the faculty, fellow students, and supporters that these scholarships enabled me to work with that made my education so impactful. Because of those connections, I did work-study in the ceramics studio, worked for artists on commissions and installations, and taught continuing education courses in various mediums, including ceramics. Those experiences have benefited me far more than any monetary scholarship. Yes, it is nice to have had some of my education paid for, but without the experiences to back it up, the education wouldn’t be nearly as valuable.
When I began teaching as an adjunct at KCAD in 2006, I didn’t see the position as only a job. I saw it as an opportunity to connect with students and share the experiences that were shared with me. The very first scholarships I gave provided students access to studio spaces that were carved out of the UICA’s ceramics facility, enabling them to continue thier work in clay beyond the two ceramics classes that were then offered. This provided students with opportunities to establish their commitment to working with clay and gain experience to list on their resumes. These are foundational assets I strongly believe in, because they are crucial in developing a career in art.
Photography student Andrew Doty and Sculpture student Kayla Thompson learning the art of wood-firing
In 2009 I was offered the opportunity to take a class at Ox-Bow School of Art and Artists Residency on a fully funded scholarship. And although I was very flattered by the offer, I had another idea: I thought one of my students might benefit from the class more than me, so I asked the donor if I could offer the scholarship to a student who had been showing great promise. The donor agreed.
What transpired was something I never dreamed would happen...a scholarship for KCAD students established in my name that gives them the opportunity to take a class at Ox-Bow. Since the first scholarship in 2009, I have been able to award 9 students from KCAD full scholarships for these classes. In addition, numerous others have received partial scholarships as a result of my recommendation. But the awards haven’t ended there. Since 2007 I have been organizing a wood-fire workshop at Ox-Bow twice a year, and I began to invite KCAD students in 2009. Because of the costs to rent the facility, pay for housing and food, and compensate visiting artists, the event has to be subsidized by donors, grants, and participants. Students who are involved in the KCAD Clay Collective are offered the opportunity to participate in the workshop and are awarded a work-study scholarship to do so. The fees paid by the outside participants and the private donations that I solicit generate the scholarships. Most recently I have been able to arrange a private scholarship to enable a graduate Painting student to complete the final class of their MFA.
Professor Israel Davis (kneeling) and the rest of The KCAD Clay Collective during a wood-fire workshop at Ox-bow School of Art
Why do I pursue these opportunities for students? It is because I am a passionate artist and educator. I’m also someone who, through his own hard work, has been awarded opportunities to be employed and gain valuable experience in the fields of ceramics and art making. Along the way I’ve managed to find myself in the unique position to be able to take advantage of some my own resources to help students that display trust, kindness, passion, ability, and interest. And although I have been able to offer students financial support, what is most important to me is the hands-on experience that they are getting. Providing life-changing experiences is what teaching at KCAD is all about, and I am grateful that I’m able to contribute to our talented and supportive community in this way.