Dr. Jude Okpala
Everything is a process; failure comes only when we have given up on the process. Jude Okpala , Full-Time Faculty , The Art Institute of San Antonio, a branch of The Art Institute of Houston
What would you say is the defining moment in your life when you knew you were destined to become a creative professional?
A defining moment for me was when I wrote my first poem entitled “Africa” and submitted it for publication. It was accepted and was included in an anthology dedicated to Black Poetry. Such a feat fed my creativity, more so, to fashion meaning with words and reflect on human reality.
How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience to provide an industry veteran's sense of the realities / challenges / opportunities of the profession?
I am a published writer, but I did not get published the first time I submitted my work to the editor. I was rejected multiples times and still get rejection letters today when I submit my work to publishers. I never gave up; I do revise the work and resubmit; at times, I search for outlets that cater to my work. Rejection letters like that, and any form of challenge, are opportunities for improvement; they are ladders for a higher plateau, and must be seen as such than as anything else. So, I tell my students that getting feedback on their work is an opportunity to improve on it.
Is there a class assignment that exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring? Similarly, how does your approach inspire each student to push themselves beyond their own perceived limits?
My approach to teaching is essentially Socratic, and that means I function as a midwife giving birth to students’ learning; it means also that I do not see any of my students as tabula rasa, empty slate, that I have to fill in. They have their knowledge, which I must validate. With that position, my assignments call for critical thinking and dialog; it requires students to present what they already know about a topic and then align that learning with an opposing perspective.
What role does collaboration contribute to students' success, especially when students from other programs contribute to the same project?
Collaboration is key to students’ success in my writing class; such a position serves the cliché that “one head is better than one.” On a more clearer perspective, collaboration offers exchange and building of ideas through dialog; it fosters civic engagement, which is crucial to proper engagement in the society. Coming from different cultural and disciplinary backgrounds, my students collaborate to navigate their different experiences and build on them; they see how interdisciplinary a specific area of study is, and they gravitate more confidently and comfortably to each other. They come to understand that no discipline is really a silo, but an integration of others. A photography student sees a connection with a film student; a culinary arts student sees a connection with a design student; and they all see a connection with “English Composition,” where composition serves as a metaphor for integration of perspectives to build a new reality.
In your opinion, what is the single most important thing you impart to your students to help them succeed in your class and in the real world? Alternatively, what is the most critical advice you would offer any student as he / she embarks on a creative career?
I teach writing, so I want my students to understand that good writing comes through a process: I want to add a process of revision, which offers the opportunity to develop and improve on an idea. It would not be unreasonable to say that life goes through such a process; an encounter with failure should not define a person; it should be rather an opportunity to grow, to revise one’s perspectives and amend uncouth structures and styles. I would want my students to see life as such. Everything is a process; failure comes only when we have given up on the process.
Is there anything else you'd like us to know about you, your experience, or your role as a faculty member at The Art Institutes?
I want students to know that my classroom is a learning community, where every voice counts and is empowered to speak and write about his or her perspectives. My classroom, as such, takes the shape of my students’ learning styles and builds on them with the goal of achieving active learning.