UW Board of Regents spotlights MacArthur Foundation fellowship winner Anne Basting

UW Board of Regents spotlights MacArthur Foundation fellowship winner Anne Basting


I thought I would share a little bit with you today that I’m a little bit of a poster child for the system. I grew up in Janesville, public high school, got my master’s in Madison, my first teaching job at UW-Oshkosh, and I’ve been at UWM for over 15 years, and my entire career has been public higher education. And that journey and that story I think can offer a little bit of insight about the nature of innovation and the incredible power and potential of collaboration and community partnership. What I do – thank you for this clicker, by the way, and it’s very precious. What I do is actually not a single academic field. You can’t major in what I do. What I do is actually about 10 different fields at least. And what I think is that that is becoming more normal and if it’s not right now it should be. What I do across those 10 fields has really demanded that I become a master of translation across all those fields. I’m currently a professor in the theater department. I have a BA in English, I taught in an English department, I am an artist, I’m a humanities PhD in theater studies. In graduate school I took courses for but didn’t complete a graduate certificate in gerontology. I took courses for and did complete a graduate certificate and minor in advanced feminist studies — go figure that. What that actually taught me was how to see the gaps and the cracks between what we see and what we know we can change. As the only person in the arts ever to receive the prestigious national Brookdale Fellowship, I commonly presented my work to about 300 medical geriatricians and social scientists. And I’ll tell you they doubted every single word I said. Except that one guy who uses Shakespeare to teach his med students — he loved me. But I’ll tell you what that sometimes humiliating experience taught me — it taught me their language, and it taught me never to apologize for what I do but to translate it. For 10 years at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, I directed the center on age and community where I fostered dialogue between government, for-profit, nonprofit business professionals and university researchers. Among those researchers were people from the fields of nursing, psychology, social work, history, sociology and to some of you that might not sound that different but let me tell you they can be universes apart. As an artist and a humanities scholar I’ve adapted improvisation techniques into evidence-based programs that infuse improvisation and flexibility into health and human services systems. These same improvisations approaches teach family caregivers how to use flexible thinking to better connect their loved ones with dementia. It quite literally connects you with a loved one you thought was lost. It also quite literally brings an organizational system out of rigidity and into flexibility. I just want to share with you that we just started training at 50 nursing homes across the state — what you see, the blue there are where the nursing homes are — we’re infusing creative care into those nursing homes. The five red dots are the museums that we’re collaborating with for creative prompts to engage and build community. As a teacher, I oversee students in a newly designed arts and social entrepreneurship certificate in the Peck School of the Arts to embed artists in an agency or organization, identify a social challenge and collaborate to use the arts to design a sustainable solution. I oversee three arts students who are right now living in long-term care communities, receiving free room and board in exchange for offering innovative community-building programming. I’m overseeing five more who are embedded in city governments and in school districts. And yet what I do is not a single definable field. You can’t major in what I do there are not yet job titles or job descriptions that capture what these incredible students are capable of doing. But because we have our ears to the ground, because we have strong and trusted partnerships with the community, because we have space and time for reflection, because I have tenure, we can risk and imagine and teach and model for the field what the jobs of tomorrow can be. Together, my students, my colleagues, the other 275 community engaged scholars at UWM, and my many, many community partners, we are between 10 fields, if not more. This is where innovation happens. Because business models are eroding and evolving faster than we can possibly ever design educational programs. It is nearly impossible to draw a straight line between those innovations in an existing job title. So my colleagues and I what we do in that moment, in that space, is that we train thinkers, we train makers, we train designers and planners and communicators, and they are fearless. They are following my path and translating between rapidly evolving disciplines and business models to arrive victorious at a job that they define in a world that they make, hopefully in Wisconsin. Because we need every last one of them here. Innovation comes from diversity. Bringing together people who don’t speak the same language, who come from different worldviews, and they look at the same problem and collaborate to find that sustainable solution. We need to incentivize that collaboration across university and community, across departments, across languages. This is where innovation comes from. We need to incentivize those 275 other community engaged scholars just at my campus alone who generously and genuinely coach their fearless students to step toward a job market where entrepreneurship is just code for make it up yourself. And they are, and they do, because we’re training students to be creative, to improvise and to translate between fields and to build their own new worlds. I feel really blessed to have the chance to address you. By this award which you can tell still chokes me up and by my work in public higher education for students and the communities who need us the most. Thank you.

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About the Author: Oren Garnes

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