Sarah Strange, senior lecturer in performing and visual arts at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and costume director and designer, was selected for the 2023 Wisconsin Teaching Fellows and Scholars Program. She is one of two UW-Platteville faculty members selected for the UW System program this year.
“It means so much to me to be selected as a teaching fellow and to have my work in the classroom and the costume studio acknowledged,” said Strange, who started teaching at UW-Platteville in the fall of 2013. “At UW-Platteville, a portion of my teaching load is dedicated to the design and creation of costumes for the theatre program’s productions. I have the great joy of serving as a teacher and an artist.”
Strange, who spent the majority of her career in educational theatre and working in costume studios with students from a diverse background of experience, described her teaching style as focused on facilitating an interactive learning environment. There is little in her course content that is not hands-on, because as Strange put it, “learning in the theatre happens through doing.”
“My belief is that each of my students can take aspects of my courses and carry them forward into this incredible journey of life and discovery,” said Strange. “My goal is to send each of my students into the world with a strengthened mind for critical analysis of form and function, an enhanced set of visual communication skills and a deeper understanding of visual storytelling.”
Throughout the Wisconsin Teaching Fellows and Scholars Program, participants are guided through the process of completing a scholarship of teaching and learning project. In casual conversation, Strange discovered 80% of her fall Introduction to Design course self-identified as having ADHD, a percentage she found shocking. She became curious as to why so many students with ADHD were in her theatre course and discovered that they were intrinsically drawn to the creative arts for a variety of reasons. Strange said that the ADHD mind is motivated by novelty, challenge, urgency and competition, all elements which are inherent to theatre, making it an ideal focus of study for those students. This led Strange to consider the possibility that catering to neurodivergent learning styles might greatly improve learning outcomes. By looking at teaching strategies to support the neurodiverse student population, she might discover powerful tools with which to engage students.
Strange wishes to discover what learning styles are most effective for the highly creative minds she encounters. She wants to know how to enhance her current teaching techniques to empower every student in her classroom, creating an even more inclusive and inviting learning environment. She believes that examining the strategies she and her colleagues already employ will help educators in other disciplines to be more aware of techniques that support the well-being and academic success of neurodivergent students.
“My favorite part of teaching at UW-Platteville is witnessing my students developing though all the many facets of their lives,” said Strange. “I love that I get to work alongside my students in the classroom and also in the costume studio, through building costumes and creating characters together in the fitting room.”
Strange said that teaching theatre at UW-Platteville is a great privilege. She believes that at an institution where the majority of students are focused on STEM fields, agriculture and criminal justice, theatre provides a critical creative outlet and exposes students to an important artform, one that enriches the surrounding community.
According to the UW System website, the Wisconsin Teaching Fellows and Scholars Program offers UW faculty and teaching academic staff a unique opportunity to collaborate with other exceptional teachers from across the UW System and from various disciplines, which many have found re-energized their work and transformed their approach to teaching and learning.