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Meet Dr. Rebecca Siefert, 2022 Excellence Award winner

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Dr. Rebecca Siefert, sole art historian at Governors State University, received the Excellence Award at Convocation 2022. She was one of three professors to receive the award that recognizes excellence in teaching, performance of primary duties, research, and creative activity. Dr. Siefert received recognition for her continuous research on women in architecture and the program she organized during remote classes that featured virtual visits from artists to share their work and expertise with students.

GSU Newsroom: What led you to GSU?

Siefert: I was finishing up my Ph.D. dissertation in New York City when I saw the job posting at GSU. One of the big draws on a personal level was the school’s location and proximity not only to Chicago, which is home to so many renowned art collections and architectural landmarks, but also its proximity to Milwaukee, which is where most of my family lives. Professionally, I was drawn to GSU for a number of reasons: coming from NYC where I had been adjuncting for several years, I was eager to continue working with first-generation and non-traditional students; I also connected with GSU’s emphasis on diversity, inclusion, and social justice initiatives; perhaps most importantly, this seemed to be a school where I could be part of a team and have a real impact, since the university and the art program alike were going through some exciting changes and periods of growth.

GSU Newsroom: What do you uniquely offer students as a professor?

Siefert: I am in a somewhat unique position since I was a painting/drawing major as an undergraduate, and I understand that creative impulse and the drive to make beautiful and thoughtful works of art, but as an art historian my focus is on research and writing. So I try to bridge that perceived gap that most folks envision between people who make art and people who write about art.

I think art history also gets a bad reputation for being ‘boring’ or elitist – I do remember the long slide lectures and there wasn’t much interaction in my art history classes when I was a student, so I do my best to make my classes fun, engaging, as well as educational. I know a lot of faculty do this already, so the general approach is not that unique, but I do have a colorful ‘snack basket’ that I bring with me to ensure no student goes ‘hangry’ during my class, and I have a spinning wheel to use for in-class activities, since I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t get satisfaction from spinning a colorful ‘Wheel-of-Fortune”-style wheel every now and then (myself included)!

GSU Newsroom: What is your favorite art piece or architectural element on GSU’s campus?

Siefert: This is a tricky one! The entire Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park is full of impressive and historic works of art from some of the biggest names in contemporary art, from Mark di Suvero to Mary Miss, Martin Puryear, Bruce Nauman, Richard Hunt…each day when I walk to campus from the Metra station, I am reminded of how fortunate I am to work essentially in the heart of a giant outdoor art museum!  As for architectural elements, I am a fan of the Brutalist style that we see on so many college campuses (like our own) – the Hall of Honors reminds me of some of the higher aspirations of Brutalism, such as the aim to bring people together and foster a sense of community. We see that in the big, open, sunny atrium of the Hall of Governors, with that beautiful staircase and walkway – I am always waving hello to people from across the way! 

GSU Newsroom: You have written a book on Lauretta Vinciarelli and worked with Digital Learning and Media Design (DLMD) to create a video on the same topic. What were those experiences like for you?

Siefert: The book writing process was exciting and a little terrifying, since it was a very new experience. My book was based on my dissertation research, but a dissertation and a book are different products and their audiences are going to be different, too. At the end, it was very rewarding to see all of the work I had put into this project come to fruition – the same was true for my DLMD video, which I created thanks to a Media Research Institute (MRI) Fellowship, awarded through the Center for Community Media. It provided me with the resources, tools, and support to showcase all of that hard work in a more public and accessible way, and – hopefully – bring increased awareness to Lauretta’s many contributions to contemporary art and architecture.

GSU Newsroom: What do you hope to accomplish next?

Siefert: There is a long list of goals for the future, but at the forefront is doing my part to help continue to grow the art program here at GSU. In my own research, I have a few projects in the works and am hoping that at least one will eventually lead to my next book publication.

GSU Newsroom: Is there anything that you would like to share or to promote awareness of that was not mentioned?

Siefert: I would like to encourage everyone to stop by the art studios and to attend art events and lectures on campus. This semester alone we had about 7 different artists speaking at various events in the Visual Arts Gallery and beyond, covering topics ranging from water rights activism to participatory art and beyond. Follow @visualartsgallerygsu and @artgovst on Instagram and Facebook, and come join us for an upcoming event!