Karen Cummings, coordinator of art education at UMSL, was named the Western Region Higher Education Art Educator of the Year by the National Art Education Association. (Photo by August Jennewein)

A year after claiming a state award for her contributions to art education, Karen Cummings, coordinator of art education at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, has garnered national recognition.

The National Art Education Association has selected her to receive the 2012 Western Region Higher Education Art Educator of the Year Award. Last year, she was named the Higher Education Art Educator of the Year by the Missouri Art Education Association.

UMSL Daily caught up with Cummings recently to talk about her award.

What was your reaction to receiving the award?

I was very surprised when I received notification. There are many deserving colleagues in the Western Division and I feel honored to have been selected as the 2012 award recipient.

Did you receive the honor for a specific act or for your overall body of work?

I am receiving the award for the overall body of work, not one specific activity. I am proud of all my accomplishments and activities including my teaching and advising of students but of most significance is a mentoring program I co-founded and currently facilitate. The First Five is an informal group dedicated to providing mentorship and peer support to art teachers in their critical first five years of teaching. First Fivers meet monthly to share ideas, offer support and gain inspiration from other art educators. Participants know that even if they are the only art teacher in school, they are never alone or isolated. I am very proud of what I have accomplished in an effort to support beginning art educators in a relatively short time period. Since its inception in 2008, the First Five program has been replicated in areas throughout the state of Missouri.

Can you explain the significance of this award?

As I mentioned earlier, there are many individuals in higher education that are deserving of the award and having my colleagues select me as this year’s award recipient indicated the work I am doing is valued and appreciated.

When will you receive the award?

The award will be presented on March 1 during the National Art Education Association Convention in New York City.

Last year you were named the Higher Education Art Educator of the Year in the state of Missouri. How important are these honors?

The Western Region Higher Ed Art Educator of the Year Award recognizes one member in higher education teaching in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas or Wisconsin. It also includes the Canadian provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories.

Receiving the Missouri Higher Education Art Educator of the Year in 2011 and the Western Region Higher Education Art Educator of the Year in 2012 are great honors. The awards indicate that what I do for my students and beginning art educators are important contributions to the field of art education. I gain personal satisfaction and fulfillment by investing my time in experiences that I determine important and will improve the lives of others; yet it is an added bonus when other art educators recognize the value my work.

Cummings holds a joint appointment at UMSL in the Department of Art and Art History and Division of Teaching and Learning. Since joining the faculty in 2006, she forged collaborative relationships with the Schmidt Art Center at Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville and the Belleville School District. Cummings has served as an adviser to the Schmidt Art Center, and her interns assist with the development of exhibit-associated learning opportunities at the gallery for K-12 students at nearby schools.

E. Louis Lankford, chair of the Department of Art and Art History at UMSL and the Des Lee Foundation Endowed Professor in Art Education, said the honor is well-deserved.

“Karen Cummings is recognized as one of our star faculty in the Department of Art and Art History for the dynamic leadership she provides to the Art Education program.” He said she demands a lot from her students which they later come to appreciate. “They love her for it because once they begin their teaching careers they realize how well prepared they are.”

Lankford said there will be a strong, delighted and enthusiastic contingent of UMSL and Missouri art educators present at Cummings’ March awards ceremony.

Myra Lopez

Myra Lopez