Student Group Spotlight: CA/T (Columbia Artists/Teachers)

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20-Feb-17
Periodically, we’ll be spotlighting various student organizations within Columbia’s graduate Writing Program. For this edition, we spoke with CA/T, a group that enables students in the Writing Program to teach writing classes in local high schools, at Columbia, and beyond. Here, the group’s student leaders—Rebecca Sonkin, Alex Bernstein, Miles Coleman, Dolapo Demuren, and Lizzy Steiner (all current students)—discuss CA/T’s history and future, and the importance of providing no-cost arts education.
 

Tell us a bit about what CA/T does.

CA/T (Columbia Artists/Teachers) is a faculty of creative writing instructors within the Writing Program, comprising first-year, second-year, and Research Arts students. We offer MFA students teaching and training opportunities across New York City. Our artist-teachers serve a variety of populations, in a variety of settings, including local schools and community organizations, with the aim of providing no-cost arts education.

CA/T BRIDGE, a program within CA/T, works closely with the Writer as Teacher seminar, offered by the Writing Program every year, to give MFA students an opportunity to create their own courses under the guidance of Alan Ziegler and acquire teaching experience within the Columbia community. These courses are taught to students throughout the Columbia community.
 

How did your group get started?
 
At the end of the Spring 2002 term, a delegation of MFA Writing Program students met with Writing Program chair Alan Ziegler to express their concerns about the lack of teaching opportunities and training offered by the program. It was as a result of this meeting that CA/T as well as the Writer as Teacher seminar were established. Both offerings were fully functional by the Fall 2002 semester.
 

What are some of your goals for this year?
 
Aside from the perennial objective of providing teaching opportunities and support to CA/T members, we set two specific goals for our team this year: more teacher training and increased community outreach through the arts.
 
We implemented a three-part teaching enrichment series for all CA/Ts. Our first workshop, led by Ann DeWitt, focused on teaching in the age of intersectionality. Our next workshop, led by Keri Bertino, will be devoted to writing CVs and cover letters for academic teaching jobs. The final workshop in the series will address the challenge of creating a sustainable writing practice while teaching; that workshop will be led by Ann and Keri together.
 
To increase our community outreach, CA/T also partnered with local mentoring organization, Girls Write Now, last December for its annual Scholarship-a-thon. Ten teachers volunteered to help 93 female-identifying students apply for a combined $225,000 in scholarships. This spring, CA/T will collaborate with Girls Write Now for the organization's annual College Bound Workshop, a one-day intensive college essay-writing program.
 

When you were a first-year in the program, what made you want to join CA/T?

Dolapo Demuren: “I wanted in-class teaching experience, and I wanted to influence a community that focused on social service. I found what I was looking for in CA/T.”
 
Lizzy Steiner: “At the CA/T info session, I was struck not only by the opportunity to develop teaching skills but also CA/T's commitment to creating links between MFA students and the larger NYC community.”
 
Rebecca Sonkin: “I wanted to teach and I like belonging to communities. CA/T gave me both.”
 
Miles Coleman: “I was looking for high school teaching experience and, as a newcomer to NYC, I wanted to engage with the city and the community within Columbia.”
 

What's been your favorite CA/T experience so far?
 
Rebecca Sonkin: “Hands down, the high-school reading event, ‘CA/T: Young Writers Presents.’ Twenty-three students read original work at our second annual event in December. It was the feel-good event of the year.”
 
Dolapo Demuren: “Serving as a source of encouragement for the teachers I am responsible for as program coordinator. There's nothing like being there for teachers!”
 
Lizzy Steiner: “The Girls Write Now Scholarship-a-thon was a new program this year, and it was awesome. This was a high-energy, intensive workshop, and the collaborative, supportive environment made for great writing.”
 
Alex Bernstein: “Getting emails from BRIDGE students expressing gratitude for the program meant the world to me.”
 
Miles Coleman: “Receiving thank-you notes from my students at High School of Fashion Industries at the end of last term. It was amazing to hear what our discussions meant to them, and the confidence it inspired in their own writing.”

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Columbia University School of the Arts offers MFA degrees in Film, Theatre, Visual Arts, and Writing, an MA degree in Film Studies, a joint JD/MFA degree in Theatre Management & Producing, a PhD degree in Theatre History, Literature, and Theory, and an interdisciplinary program in Sound Arts.