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Elementary Education Faculty Mary Pat Garr


Jillian Swinford

Jillian Swinford loves teaching art; she thinks it is a job that is “almost too good to be true.” It is her mission in life to “inspire others to love art” as much as she does. As an MAT Art Education student at Columbia, Jillian has been exploring this mission by teaching art to special education and underprivileged students for many years. After graduating from the University of Illinois, where she studied psychology and practiced as an amateur artist, Jillian came to Chicago to participate in the volunteer-based City Year program. She then began teaching art at the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School, which caters to “students who need a second chance or a safe place to grow straight and tall.”

Jillian came to Columbia College Chicago in 2009 because she believed that the Art Education program would help her be a better teacher at the Orthogenic School. She particularly enjoys the “hands-on, practical approach” the program takes towards education. She has also benefited from her fellow students and the community the program fosters. Jillian believes that the program “attracts interesting and dedicated people,” who have helped open her eyes to different approaches to art education.

Jillian has benefited from her fellow students and the community the program fosters. She believes that the program “attracts interesting and dedicated people,” who have helped open her eyes to different approaches to art education.

Jillian’s current project is a non-profit education organization, called Edpowerment, which she is developing with several other teachers around the country. For the past few summers, Jillian has gone to Tanzania to work with students who are unable to attend secondary school. She is developing Edpowerment to provide resources for those students and their community. The organization sponsors students to attend secondary school, supports a small informal school, and started an autism awareness initiative in Tanzania.

Jillian’s current project is a non-profit education organization, called Edpowerment, which she is developing with several other teachers around the country. She is developing Edpowerment to provide resources for students in Tanzania who are unable to attend secondary school.

One of Jillian’s interests in the Edpowerment project is to raise awareness of autism in Tanzania, where it is sorely lacking. While in the MAT program at Columbia, Jillian is also working on her certification in special education, which will allow her to use art to educate children with special needs. She hopes to use this skill in her work in Tanzania, where special needs children are largely ignored by the education system. She also plans to offer resources for teaching autistic children to Tanzanian teachers and parents through Edpowerment’s support program for students with special needs.

Through the support of her professors at Columbia, Jillian presented a paper on her work in Tanzania at the Illinois Arts Education Association’s (IAEA) annual conference and hopes to do the same at the nationwide conference. She hopes that the connections she has made through IAEA will be able to help her as she develops Edpowerment further.

Being in Columbia’s Art Education program has helped Jillian to solidify her teaching and artistic philosophy. She believes that teachers need to think of “teaching art as a global phenomenon,” rather than something that only engages students in developed countries. Jillian uses her experiences in Tanzania to inform the way she teaches art to all students. She has also begun using art to teach all sorts of concepts and encourages others to do the same. After she completes the MAT program, Jillian plans on moving to Tanzania for at least a year to work on Edpowerment. Through the organization, she will continue her mission of teaching children around the world to love art as much as she does. Edpowerment is currently looking for donations and volunteers; for more information, please visit www.edpowerment.org.

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