Rachel Tu | February 2018

Hometown: San Jose, California

Major: Design | Media Arts

Minor: Visual and Performing Arts Education


Q: How did you discover your interest in the arts and how did you know that it was something that you wanted to pursue professionally, as an artist or as an artist teacher?

A: I’ve been creating constantly since childhood—I sculpted play-doh, drew and painted furiously, wrote and illustrated stories. What began as recreational play turned into a more serious passion as I continued to gravitate away from math and science and towards the arts. High school was a pivotal time for my creative journey. I held leadership positions in yearbook and fashion club, which grew my experience in and excitement for graphic design, photography, fashion design, and mixed media. More importantly, though, I had the privilege of working with the most supportive, kind, and creative public high school studio art teacher that this world may know. He challenged me to think analytically and creatively, helped me push my projects further than I could initially conceive, and cared for all of his students with deep compassion. I was blessed to be accepted to UCLA Design | Media Arts under his guidance, so I entered college convinced and content that I’d be a graphic designer for the rest of my life. I loved (and still love) graphic design and all of the arts, and the door for graphic design is still open. But I burnt out quickly because I spent freshman year buried in classwork and two graphic design internships. Thankfully, my class schedule allowed me to pick up a minor, and I stumbled upon the Visual and Performing Arts Education minor. Without putting much thought into it, I went through the capstone sequence and found myself teaching in a classroom within a few months.From there, I understood that my technical skills, eye for design, desire to build relationships, appreciation for my high school art teacher created a foundation for me to love the high school art classroom. 

Q: Describe what the young artists in your VAPAE afterschool arts program are working on and the process they’re using.

A: It is a joy to collaborate alongside these high school creators during the PhotoVoice afterschool program. We have the privilege of working with a wide range of students with vastly different interests. They have high aspirations and work hard towards those goals in journalism, visual art, video, engineering, biology, and of course, photography. They want to photograph everything: nature, portraits, cars, events, animals, and environments. 

Q: Why is an enrichment opportunity like this important for those participating? What do they gain?

A: This opportunity is crucial to high school students. They teeter between childhood and adulthood. They take joy in the little things and engage in petty drama, but they also face real-world struggles and heartache and suffering. They are in a volatile, vulnerable, and formative time of their lives. They are trying to discover what they want, what their values are, and where their passions lie. They desire belonging and community; their identities are influenceable. They long for a safe space and creative outlet where they can begin to understand themselves by exploring, making mistakes, learning, and growing.This space is PhotoVoice. This space should be every high school classroom. Here, students need to gain a stronger sense of their identities and establish a foundation for their futures. 

Q: Did you have an opportunity like this when you were a younger artist? If yes, how did it help shape your love of art? If no, in what ways could a program like this have helped you?

A: Thankfully, I did have the opportunity to create, fail, and grow under the guidance of my high school art teacher. I still marvel at his ability to push me to establish my projects on strong and meaningful concepts, help countless students build portfolios that got us admitted to the most prestigious schools, balance a classroom of 30+ rebellious high school students, and still engage with every one of us in deeper, purposeful conversations. He showed me that art is so much more than making a pretty thing. It is a creative, rigorous, and relational process. I believe that every student needs to work through the creative process alongside a mentor that genuinely cares for his or her soul. 

Q: What has this experience as a teaching artist or arts facilitator taught you about yourself?

A: Practically, I am learning to manage time, be clear with directions, plan lessons, and demand respect. But moreover, I am learning to atune to, care for, and serve students. I am learning to empathize and sympathize with students who come from diverse backgrounds and carry burdens or issues with them which I could never imagine. I am learning the importance of passion and compassion. I am learning to push the students out of their comfort zones so that they can grow, and I continually ask the question, “Why?” I’ve failed and will fail so many times in the classroom, but through these mistakes I’ve come to realize that teaching is actually a huge learning process. Q: What do you personally gain as a teaching artist, arts facilitator?

Q: What do you personally gain as a teaching artist, arts facilitator?

A: As stated before, I have gained empathy and a purpose-driven mindset. I want to teach because I hope to give back to the community that poured so much into me. Every time I go into the classroom, I hope and desire to give as much as possible to the students. However, I often find that I gain more lessons, epiphanies, and relationships than I have to offer. It’s such a blessing to be a facilitator of a collaborative environment like the classroom!

Q: What are the benefits to you as a student/graduate in the UCLA VAPAE program? Was this program a good choice for you? If so, why?

A: Goodness, if you told me that I’d come to UCLA and have the opportunities to…
-teach an eight-lesson curriculum to 37 high schoolers as part of a class that I was enrolled in,
-teach dance lessons to kindergarten, middle school, and high school classes after quitting dance five years ago,
-teach a ten-week afterschool photography program to dedicated high schoolers AND get paid for it,
-come back every week and have the full support and constructive feedback from passionate and experienced educators,
…I would’ve laughed and said, “no way.” Minoring in VAPAE has been one of the best choices that I made in college. I have access to so many resources, a wealth of knowledge and experience in the faculty, and priceless relationships with my cohorts and teachers.

Q: Are there any anecdotes from your VAPAE Studio Sessions (or Arts Education Teaching Sequence) that stand out to you? Perhaps you had a break‐through with a student or saw some particularly noticeable growth in that student through this program, collaboration etc. Maybe something surprised you or made you think about art or teaching in a new way.

A: Students continually surprise me in the best ways possible. The arts are truly therapeutic and can showcase a beautiful rawness that the students don’t want to describe or talk about with their peers. I love being able to see my quiet students break out of their shells in the last few lessons and talk proudly about their work. The students who speak out or misbehave, thinking that they’re “too cool” for the class dive right into creating work that is an expression of their personalities under their cool facade.

Q: What are your short-term and long‐term career goals?

A: Short-term: continue teaching; continue designing; continue hand-lettering (one of my side-hobbies!), and continue to invest in the people around me. Long-term: graduate from UCLA and get some sort of job. I leave this vague because I believe that teaching can manifest itself in many, many forms. I would love to teach in the classroom, but I’ve considered teaching in art therapy, private art lessons, hand-lettering workshops, or even yoga and dance. Teaching may not even be in an art form; I would also love to teach and be involved with children in church ministry or as a mom. If not in the formal role of teaching, I may end up in an ad agency, tech company, design studio, start-up—the list goes on! Being a teacher is a lifestyle of sharing, giving, serving, caring, loving, receiving, failing, and learning.