Arts draw HCC students

Picture: School registers a 40 percent increase this year in students taking such courses as acting, dance, music and drawing.

November 28, 2001|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

The number of Howard Community College students taking visual and performing arts classes has jumped nearly 40 percent in the past year, mirroring a growing diversity of interests of students attending the vocationally oriented two-year school.

"We've made a very big effort to make sure students have a comprehensive arts education, from the business side to the performance side," said Valerie E. Costantini, chairwoman of the arts and humanities department at the college.

School officials believe the prospect of new facilities has given an extra boost to HCC arts programs.

Two temporary buildings designed for arts classes are scheduled to open next semester, and the college is planning to build a performing and visual arts center - costing nearly $20 million - in several years.

Last fall, HCC students took about 3,200 hours of arts classes, which include dance, fine arts, music and mass media courses. This fall, they took more than 4,500 hours of arts classes.

The increased interest in arts at HCC reflects an earlier trend at Maryland's four-year colleges. Between 1994 and 1999, the last year for which statistics are available, arts enrollment at the state's four-year institutions grew by more than 35 percent, according to the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

HCC officials believe their efforts in recent years to hire arts teachers who also work in their respective professions has helped boost enrollment by making arts education at the school particularly valuable.

"We don't want people who are just educated as a teacher, we want someone whom students can learn real life from," Costantini said.

When Costantini took over in 1984, she inherited a teaching staff of three full-time professors and a handful of part-time faculty. Now, the department has nine full-time professors and more than 100 part-time faculty members, all of whom are working professional artists.

For example, Margaret Kahlor was a producer and director at the school's television station, HCC-TV, for nine years before teaching mass media classes at the college.

At many larger schools, mass media students have little hands-on experience with equipment early in their education. While designing her courses, Kahlor made sure her students would be "actually touching the equipment as soon as possible."

In addition to making short films during their first year, mass media students are encouraged to work at HCC-TV to gain experience.

"You can't understand how this works without working with a camera, working with the machines," Kahlor said.

The hands-on approach has attracted students throughout the department.

Ashanti Cooper, a 19-year-old aspiring actress from Laurel, was impressed with the drama courses she took at HCC while she was in high school. When she didn't get into her first-choice college, she decided to enroll at HCC.

"I get such joy from being on stage and I've been pleased with what they've taught me here," she said recently as she prepared for her beginning acting class.

HCC officials hope arts enrollment will continue to climb even as the economy tightens and students may be tempted by more practical courses in business or science.

"There are a whole lot of opportunities in the arts that don't necessitate starving," Costantini said, including working with stage props or graphic design.

But some arts students are making back-up plans in case their artistic dreams don't pan out and the economy worsens.

Leanne Novak, an 18-year-old Glenwood resident, is taking Video I, a basic directing class, and she dreams of directing edgy films such as Fight Club or Memento. But she plans to take more practical lighting and sound classes, as well, "just in case."

Still, Novak has signed up for a more advanced directing class next semester.

"It's worth a try," she said.

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