Coming full circle to inspire
From mentee to mentor, Malory Spicer reflects on her experience with an outreach program encouraging young women to explore careers in the arts and sciences.
The “Magic of Disney Animation” ride at Walt Disney World inspired me to be an animator – but it was the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design (ACCAD) at Ohio State that taught me what that involved and how to make my dream become a tangible reality.
I was 15 years old the first time I was selected to participate in ACCAD’s Digital Animation Technology Mentoring Program for Young Women. Started by the director of ACCAD, Maria Palazzi, in 2001, this program welcomes young women in grades 6-8 to come to campus and learn the process, the technology and the filmmaking concepts involved in computer animation. Palazzi challenges the students to consider how animation can be used to explore complex ideas and effect change – designing the program around an environmental or social issue each year and even taking the girls on field trips to do “on-site research.”
Throughout the workshop’s two-week duration, the young women learn to use industry-standard software and technology to create a short film – taking their original ideas from storyboards to fruition in a final film screening for friends and family.
The young women, through the many iterations of this program, have utilized their creativity, problem-solving skills and raw talent to design stories around topics from the Darby Creek watershed and Olentangy River to the importance of recycling and our dependence on the honeybee.
In addition to collaborating in small teams with their peers, the students work closely with a female graduate or undergraduate student mentor.
Computer animation, along with many careers involving technology, has historically been a male-dominated field. Though these numbers are shifting, we cannot overlook the importance of mentoring young women: to instill the confidence, support and empowerment to pursue careers in technology-related fields from a young age.
The women who mentored me as a participant came from a wide variety of specializations – ranging from design and animation to engineering, dance and theater – and it has been continually inspiring for me to follow their careers and see how art and technology play a role in their work.
Making computer animation involves understanding elements of geometry, physics and engineering – in addition to artistic design and development. Society has created a false dichotomy between creative and analytical, telling students that they must choose to be good at either art or math, science and technology. But computer animation is a prime example of a career that requires both artistic and critical thinking.
Programs like this one at ACCAD, are necessary to further the concept of not just STEM but STEAM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics + art and design) by giving young women the hands-on experience and fearlessness to explore these areas further.
I returned to the Digital Animation program three years in a row – eager to continue to learn, create and bond with friends who shared my particular interests. Upon graduating from high school in 2008, I got my chance to be initiated into the Buckeye “family” and began my college career in computer science and engineering at Ohio State. After completing my bachelor’s degree, I continued directly into graduate school in the digital animation and interactive media MFA program (through the Department of Design and ACCAD), graduating from there in August.
Since 2011, I have participated in the program every summer, though this time as a mentor rather than a mentee.
Being able to come full circle and give back to the program that inspired me was a most rewarding experience. Regardless of whether students will follow in my footsteps and pursue animation, my hope is that they came away from the experience with an excitement about education and confidence in their abilities to tackle something new or intimidating.