Interview with Ms. Danielle Smith-Llera, MFA Student

Interview with Ms. Danielle Smith-Llera, MFA Student

at Old Dominion University

Why did you choose to pursue a graduate degree in the visual arts?

The older I got, the more inevitable this decision became. I came from a background in teaching (English, Creative Writing, Foreign Languages) and realized that if I did not make a decisive move to pursue my MFA, I would continue to acquire experience in a field that wasn't ideal for me.

How did you decide that it was the right time for you to pursue one?

Teaching allowed me to pay off all my undergraduate student loans which put me in the right frame of mind to return to school. Also I had traveled extensively all over the world and felt that I would not be seduced by the restless wanderlust that seems to grip those freshly out of their undergraduate school years.

What are the most important factors that you considered when evaluating and choosing a graduate program in the visual arts?

I wanted a program which would allow free movement between the disciplines. I also was looking for a school that offered me a package which would not leave me in debt, MFA in hand.

Were there any important qualities about your school which made it stand out more than the others on your list of possibilities?

Old Dominion University was one of the few schools which did not require application to a specific department within the Visual Studies department. The location of the school is also very desirable. The Hampton Roads area is made up 7 cities which range from densely populated to rural. The area boasts several important museums, miles of beaches and tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay. A few hours drive takes you to Washington D.C., Charlottesville, the remote Eastern Shore of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Given what you now know, what are tips could you provide for other students with regard to choosing and getting accepted into school?

Balance idealism with practical concerns. I firmly believe that an ambitious student will find success at most schools. It is important to consider whether you are ready for the experience of graduate school as strongly as you consider whether a particular graduate school will meet your particular needs. I found that my own experience in graduate school has been positive because of a combination of Graduate Teaching Assistantships and Tuition grants which removed financial stresses and allowed me to take most advantage of the opportunities around me.

How did you fund your graduate education? How available were scholarships and other forms of financial assistance?

See above for details. It is important to be aggressive in seeking out funding opportunities. Speaking with faculty frankly and with advance notice gives them the opportunity to help you.

Exactly what is your graduate degree?

MFA-- I believe that it is important to have the terminal degree as it allows me to be competitive for any sort of teaching or art-related job.

How does your school help its students to find jobs in the visual arts? What are your employment goals?

Old Dominion University gives its graduate students ample opportunities to hone their teaching abilities in the classroom. As a result, I will be graduating with over 2 years experience teaching undergraduates. I enjoy teaching college students immensely and see it as a creative act in itself. I imagine that I will be teaching throughout my career as it gives me the necessary time for my own work and to be near others involved in art-making.

Tell us about your education at your graduate school. What did you like and dislike about it?

I have been content as I have made sure to maintain a steady dialogue with professors. As they are occupied with responsibility to the undergraduates (who outnumber us) I have felt that it is my responsibility to keep up with them. This has worked out marvelously. I believe disappointment comes when students expect a structured curriculum- I believe that point of view demonstrates that certain students are not yet ready for the experience of gradate school.

How much difference does a good teacher make? Tell us about one good and one bad experience that you had.

I don't believe it is so black and white. I believe that a good teacher is skilled at making students interested in a subject matter. In graduate school, we are surrounded by a group of individuals who each bring a unique experience. I feel that it is my responsibility to discover what each teacher has to show me.

Graduate Program Profile: Old Dominion University

Enrollment: 15

School Tuition (in-state/out-of-state): $2,055 full-time*/$4,809 full-time*

Student/Faculty Ratio: 1:1.3

Graduation rate: 80%

Graduate degrees and programs offered in visual arts: MA and MFA in Visual Studies (includes the traditional studio art specialties)

The mission of your graduate art school: The MA/MFA program in Visual Studies, offered jointly by Old Dominion University and Norfolk State University offers concentrated individual programs utilizing the resources of both universities. The MA program is a thirty-three semester hour program for students seeking advanced studies in studio or admission to a terminal degree program. The MFA is a sixty semester hour program for students seeking an advanced level of professionalism that can develop only from extended study: as such it is a terminal degree in the fine arts. The program offers students the opportunity to study across studio specialties or to concentrate in one specific area if they choose.

* Tution is paid to Norfolk State University as the institution of record. Amounts given are based on the miminum full-time load of nine semester hours for a graduate student.

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