Ted Mitchell Appointed New Head of ACE, Concerns Arise

A photo of a chalkboard with school supplies on the table.

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The American Council on Education (ACE) has announced its next leader will be Ted Mitchell.

Previously a top higher education official under the Obama administration’s Education Department, Mitchell will replace Molly Brand, the ACE’s first female leader, who is retiring after nine years in the position.

While some favor Mitchell’s appointment, others point out that he has a much more varied background than previous ACE leaders, who were generally high-powered college presidents. Mitchell’s resume, on the other hand, includes being president of Occidental College; a history professor; an administrator at the University of California, Los Angeles; and the CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund, a nonprofit known for its ties to the charter school movement.

That last position, as well as Mitchell’s support of for-profit colleges, has caused some disquiet amongst other educators. In addition, Mitchell was unsuccessful in implementing a White House program to create a federal ratings system for colleges tied to financial aid.

Still, he has a history of advocating for innovation in higher education, including encouraging the development of more options for students seeking financial aid. He’s said he wants to work against the current “narrative that college doesn’t matter anymore for individuals and society,” in part by supporting university research as a vital part of the community.

He also aims to advocate for making higher education more accessible for a broader range of students, particularly those who avoid it because they can’t afford to take on massive student debt.

As part of the Obama administration legacy, Mitchell is coming into power at a difficult time, with the House and Senate controlled by Republicans. Some question whether or not he’ll be able to get anything done even as head of one of the biggest education lobbying groups in the country.

Mitchell himself, however, has faith, noting that his priority has always been policy, not politics. “I’m not and never pretended to be a politician,” he said. “I’ve had good working relationships on both sides of the aisle.”

Mitchell will begin his new role starting September 1.

Taking the MFA to the Next Level

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Art school isn’t just about traditional visual art anymore. Increasingly, MFA programs and the resulting art pieces include multidisciplinary fields of study, whether it’s combining different artistic mediums into one piece or taking student design out into the community to make a difference.

Several prime examples come from the Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA), whose students recently exhibited their work on a three-part show divided into visual studies, print media, and collaborative design. In fact, most of the pieces featured mixed media. Angélica Maria Millán Lazon’s Engendradxs is made up of portraits of the artist’s aunt and grandmother, as well as smartphones mounted on the wall playing videos. Meanwhile, Aruni Dharmakirthi’s Fissures of the In-Between features triptychs, textiles, and movement through the physical space of the exhibit.

On the other side of the country, the School of Visual Arts in New York is ground zero for innovative productions like Aya Rodriguez-Izumi’s 121212. The piece uses video, performance, and installation to tell the story of a day in the life of Lynnese Page, focusing on her daily rituals.

But it’s not just a matter of mixed media. MFA programs themselves are expanding to include the broader study of how art impacts the community around it. PNCA’s MFA in Collaborative Design focuses on getting students out into the world to collaborate with businesses, government, and nonprofit organizations looking for design solutions.

Back at SVA, students can choose from both a traditional MFA in Fine Arts and an MFA in Art Practice, which its chairman, David Ross, describes as being for “artists working in more hybrid areas, incorporating a number of different media or selecting the particular medium based on what they are trying to accomplish at a given time.”

Even MIT, traditionally known more for tech than for art, is jumping on the bandwagon when it comes to this kind of innovation. Its Master of Science in Visual Studies program focuses on “the development of artistic practices that challenge traditional genres as well as the limits of the gallery/museum context.”

Other schools with offerings focusing on art and design in the community include the Herron School of Art and Design at Indiana University, the Maryland Institute College of Art, the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, and the Carnegie Mellon University School of Art.

While studio art will always have its place, MFA programs are increasingly going beyond tradition to offer programs that contextualize art within the communities that need it. From mixed media productions to programs focusing on community engagement, it’s a brave new world when it comes to arts education.

Afghan Girls Robotics Team Denied Entry into U.S.

A red stamp of the word "denied."

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The FIRST Global Challenge is a landmark event for budding young engineers worldwide. Held in Washington D.C., this new international robotics challenge invites teams from more than 150 nations to compete. All of the high-school-aged competitors will get the chance to bounce ideas off their peers from around the globe, building bridges in science that will strengthen their future careers. The competition encourages students to explore robotic applications for medicine, environmental stewardship, and energy efficiency.

At least, that’s the intention of FIRST Global, the nonprofit STEM charity organizing the competition. But there’s red tape in the way that some competitors struggle with.

An Afghan girls team aiming for the competition thought they’d accomplished the hard part when they raised nearly $200 each for their visa applications, and thousands more for their travel and stay expenses. But when they traveled to the U.S. embassy in Kabul, the entire team was turned down for their travel visas. They weren’t given a reason.

Neither was a Gambian team that was also denied a few days later. Both teams were offered the chance to participate via Skype, but that could hardly hold a candle to the benefits of going in person.

Neither Afghanistan or Gambia are on the U.S. President’s contested travel ban, for the record. Visas were granted to teams from at least three nations which are: Iran, Sudan, and Syria.

With only days to go before the competition, the Gambian team was awarded last-minute visas after press coverage of their denial went viral on Twitter and Facebook. But their faculty adviser, science ministry director Mucktarr Darboe, will not be allowed to attend. He says he was denied because the U.S. is not currently granting visas to Gambian government officials. No such policy has been confirmed by a U.S. embassy.

The FIRST Global Challenge will take place from July 16-18. The Afghan girls team will still have to attend remotely.