Professor Christeson Connects Leiden Students to the Community

Professor Christeson and students in LeidenSchool of Communications Professor Con Christeson, a faculty member at Webster University's main campus in St. Louis, had the opportunity to extend her teaching experience out of the traditional classroom and into an interactive and community-based course at Webster Leiden this year. Through the Leif J. Sverdrup Global Teaching Fellowship, Christeson taught “Keystone Seminar Art and Social Engagement: How do the Arts Impact the World” to a group of study abroad and Leiden campus students during the summer of 2022. 

Being well-versed in the Leiden community, Christeson’s experience and zeal for art-based community work created a meaningful connection between the visiting and local students, faculty and community at large. As a creative professional, Christeson’s goal was to promote creative thinking, ethical reasoning, and problem-solving abilities through art projects that involved community engagement. Christeson best described the approach to teaching this class as “focusing on looking out from Webster Leiden at the Leiden community. Who are we in the Leiden community? And then, we are going to look in on ourselves? How does it work? What do I know? What do I need to know?” 

Throughout the 8-week course, students worked on projects that connected them to the community. For one of the projects the group worked with Bridge2Hope, an organization that provides aid to survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. The foundation creates a support system of programs and lessons, including computer skills, language skills, sewing skills and more to support individuals.

While on site, students worked on art projects such as 3D house forms and folded books with the theme “Picking Up the Pieces/ Picking Up the Thread.” These projects developed an opportunity for students to directly communicate and experience the Bridge2Hope community, Webster Leiden faculty, students and local residents.

student project in LeidenAnother project engaged the students with the Webster Leiden community, past and present. The class was tasked with depicting Webster Leiden creatively for the upcoming 40th Campus Anniversary. The focus of the project was to create a photo exhibit that portrayed the progression of the Leiden campus. Students had the exclusive opportunity to gather a collection of archived historical photos and articles pertaining to the campus. Each of the students developed imagery, which is set to be displayed during the anniversary celebration in 2023. 

Connecting with the history of the campus by means of the archived photographs became extremely meaningful to students. Celine Sippy, an attending study abroad student described the photo selection process “as experiencing the campus just like in the 80s and entering a time machine.”

Michael Mitchell described the visuals as “new students, old building … the building has still been the same, but throughout the 40 years, every person that has come in has been different and brought something different, molding and shaping us into what we are now and what we are doing.”

Differences between present and previous architecture and fashion were captured through the selection of images, thus allowing students to view the gradual development of the campus and culture over time. 

student journal in LeidenThroughout the program, students captured their experiences through journaling. This included the development of drawings pertinent to the architecture of the building, creating imagery of their connection to Webster and periodic journal entries of visits to the Bijlmer community and Bridge2Hope. These tasks led to the final journal and a book handmade by each student. Although not a part of the exhibit, these journals also served as a trip down memory lane for each student.  Christeson’s impact on the students highlighted the value of the immersion program.  

"This project made me work harder in the sense of the community," said Renato Zhou Chen, a study abroad student. I used to think I was just a lazy kid, but I feel I built the sense of community to the world. Keep being yourself and you’ll fit into the community in your own special way."

With students actively listening and slowly paying attention to visual details, the amount of knowledge, skills and interactive experiences acquired on this trip were immeasurable. 

Webster faculty interested in teaching abroad should consider applying to the Leif J. Sverdrup Global Teaching Fellowship. Applications for Fall 2023 are currently open with a deadline of Oct. 15, 2022 (open this link through Connections).


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