Meet Alexa Kulinski ’09: “artist + researcher + teacher”, as she describes herself on social networks.
A graduate of the University’s Bachelor of Fine Arts program with a master’s degree in 2017 from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), Kulinski returned to Syracuse to pursue a doctorate in teaching and curriculum at the School of Education.
Her research and practice explores artistic creation and visual journaling with the goal of helping students – and their teachers – “make sense of and explore their voices.”
Kulinski began visual journaling during his master’s studies at MICA. “It just clicked with me,” she says. In particular, she found journaling helped her document her experiences in the public school district of Enfield, Connecticut, where “Miss K” taught from 2009 to 2020: a journal helped me reflect on my teaching, educational equity and assessment, which I saw was a transformative practice.
As a doctoral student, Kulinski shares her experiences of visual journaling with teachers, to help them integrate the concept into their lives and classrooms. It can be used as a metacognitive, goal-setting, and problem-solving act for themselves and their students. “Journaling can help with social and emotional learning. It can allow students to reflect on what went well in their learning, what they are in control of, and what they can improve. says Kulinski.
Although she is fully trained as an oil painter, Kulinski enjoys drawing cartoons in her visual diary because of the way this genre blends the visual and the narrative. “I encourage journalists to do a page or two a day, or whatever they can do.” Not that oil paint isn’t capable of telling a story, adds Kulinski. You can explore his work through his Instagram account, @arkulins. This oil on canvas is titled “Moment in Time”.
As a graduate assistant, Kulinski teaches creative processes and curriculum structures at the College of Visual and Performing Arts. This course encourages “experimentation, divergent thinking and openness to discovery” in order to explore “curriculum ideas and creative learning opportunities”. According to Kulinski, “I practice journaling with my students, while exploring artistic creation, to help them find ways to use both practices for K-12 content that deviates from a school arts curriculum. traditional and incorporates contemporary artistic creation practices. ”
Kulinski presented his ideas on visual journaling in New York State. More than 50 art teachers joined her New York State Art Teachers Association’s “Visual Journaling for Art Teachers” professional development program in August 2022. In September, she presented “Problem Solving Through Visual Journaling” at Buffalo State College, encouraging participants “to learn how to use visual journaling as a teacher to solve problems and help your students do the same.”
During the summer of 2022, Kulinski taught at Summer College, part of Syracuse University’s longstanding pre-college program. High school students were introduced to comics, graphic novels, and other forms of visual storytelling.
Visual journaling was central to his course. This gave Kulinski, as a researcher, an excellent opportunity to observe the stories her students choose to tell, why they choose to tell them and how they go about it: “Examining the work of students revealed that the self was a starting point for their narratives, students remixed dominant story arcs, and students continually explored and pushed the conventions of the art form” (from Kulinski’s article, “Stories We Live By: Exploring Graphic Novels with High Schoolers”).
A student – “Trey” – created the comic book character “Split Johnson”, heavily influenced by the Two-Face character from the 1990s TV series “Batman: The Animated Series”. His Summer College students told Kulinski they wanted to explore the kinds of characters they would like to see in popular culture that spoke to them. For “Trey,” his shadowy mobster/anti-hero persona was a way to fulfill his interest in a career in criminal justice.
Two college students befriended while working together on a graphic novel exploring alternate versions of themselves. “Felix” created “Maja Wyzkiewicz”, a 22-year-old archeology student who likes to debate, is “confident and focused” and wears patched clothes. “Maddie”‘s alter ego – “Velma Thatcher” – is “an eccentric 14-year-old schoolgirl who is extremely confident but lacks social bearings”. After developing their characters, the two students wondered what it would be like if Maja and Velma became roommates, so they collaborated “to explore what happens when these two worlds collide”.
In addition to her work on visual journaling, Kulinski’s research explores how the use of materials in art lessons can provide a more equitable approach to arts education. “Using found objects, for example, can open up students’ ideas for creating art and make art much more accessible. Art materials, after all, can be expensive, and there’s an exclusivity to that,” she says.
Always attentive to student expression and storytelling, Kulinski adds that using found or recycled materials can provide “an opening for students to tell their stories and find their voices so that they are empowered to create work that counteract injustices in the world”.
Learn more about the School of Education’s doctoral programs or contact Rebecca Pettit, Investigations and Applications Specialist, at [email protected] or 315.443.2956