Professor of Art Education
Hometown: Taipei, Taiwan
Fun Fact: Developed educational technology for one of the U.S.’s largest children’s museum, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, before coming to UAA.
Beans. That was the solution to Herminia Din’s headscratcher of a problem last week. As one of the key visionaries behind the Winter Design Project in Cuddy Quad, she was trying to prevent a moose stampede or raven massacre of her students’ snowman colony. Give them carrot noses, she was told, and the moose would surely come munching their way through the middle of campus. Brightly-colored candy noses might attract marauding ravens. Rocks and buttons were out because campus snow removal equipment might eventually turn them into window-breaking projectiles. So, beans. Organic, not too tasty to Alaska wildlife and not so rigid that they’d do any damage if they got caught up in a snow blower.
Fortunately Herminia has a lot of experience coming up with unorthodox uses for objects. On the day we met, she was wearing hand-rolled paper bead earrings, a beaded cuff made with a couple dozen safety pins and hauling a giant trash bag of recyclables turned art installation—a 12-foot-long “Flow of Color” piece made from plastic mesh, bottle caps and zip ties.
Junk to Funk
She’s quick to point out that she doesn’t really consider herself a studio artist, rather she’s an art educator. She has a background in museum education and technology and teaches art appreciation, art history and art education to primarily non-art majors who get the chance to explore their creative sides.
“They’re always surprising themselves,” Herminia said of her students.
She also champions Junk to Funk events, something that helped her earn a Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Sustainability last year.
“Participants use all these recycled materials to make functional artwork,” she said.
In the past Herminia had a student craft a bench from old skis and, even more surprising, another student build an iPod speaker out of his broken cello.
“He cut the back open and installed cheap computer speakers and turned the bridge into the dock,” she said. To wow the class, he cued up a little Bach, which resonated beautifully with the cello acoustics.
“It was awesome,” Herminia said.
Inspired by Iceland and Finland
In the past two years, Herminia has had the opportunity to visit Iceland and Finland and see how our fellow frozen northern countries make innovative use of their outdoor assets. As a partner institution of University of the Arctic, UAA’s delegates like Herminia are encouraged to learn from each other.
“In Nordic countries, there are many stories and legends about fire, warmth and snow. It’s not just fire for the sake of fire, but it’s to give you hope, give you warmth, give you light in the dark of winter,” Herminia said.
If you haven’t had a chance to see how this partnership, coupled with collaboration among UAA faculty, students and administration across departments, has manifested itself in the middle of campus this week, you’re in for a treat. Snow art and math, ice music and engineering, it’s all there. And rumor has it there are plans to continue the momentum from this year’s Center for Community Engagement and Learning-sponsored Winter Design Project into next year with maybe even more inter-department and community cooperation.
“Everyone has come together to help,” said Herminia. “I just really want to see us activate that space.”
Another cool thing? Herminia was excited to learn from UAA’s Facilities and Grounds crews that even the ashes from burn barrels warming folks up in the evenings will get recycled. They’ll be used in compost for greenhouse plants and spring planting.
Path to UAA paved with museum education
Graduate school drew Herminia to the U.S. from Taipei, Taiwan in 1992. Studying art education and technology took her everywhere from The Smithsonian to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. She remains passionate about the power of museum education for all ages and volunteers her time with Anchorage area museums.
And in addition to her regular teaching load at UAA, she has also developed art education curriculum for K-12 teachers, including piloting some hour-long Junk to Funk workshops.
Those cool paper bead earrings she’s wearing?
“You can make these in about an hour,” she said. So workshop participants could potentially walk out of class with a new addition to their wardrobe and bragging rights on the recyclability of their accessories.
Helping students and the community to be hands-on and creative is at the heart of most of Herminia’s endeavors.
This past weekend you could’ve found her elbow deep in snow, sculpting snow bears in Cuddy Quad and encouraging her students to enjoy their winter campus. And thanks to a little creative thinking and a few handfuls of red and black beans that freshly built snowman colony has been ignored by moose and ravens and left intact for all to enjoy. Go check it out if you haven’t had the chance!
Written by Jamie Gonzales, UAA Office of University Advancement.