Wisconsin Idea Fellowship Intersects Art, Education and the Eagle Heights Community

Masha Vodyanyk with a couple of drawings from students in her project

Masha Vodyanyk, a senior at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and a First Wave Scholar, has spent her Saturday mornings providing art lessons to young kids at the Eagle Heights Community Center.

The Eagle Heights community is home to many international residents on the UW-Madison campus and for Vodyanyk, it is also where she grew up developing her passion and love for the arts.

Though Vodyanyk grew up in Madison, she spent her first year in college at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities. During her time in Minnesota, she was involved with Free Arts Minnesota and worked with kids from homeless shelters in downtown Minneapolis every week on a variety of art projects.

With the opportunity to transfer to UW-Madison, Vodyanyk applied to be a part of UW-Madison’s First Wave Scholarship Program. By the end of her freshman year, she was headed back home to continue her studies and looking for ways to provide accessible art education for children.

“I really wanted to continue working with kids in art and providing art lessons to students that normally wouldn’t really get that opportunity because, a lot of times, art lessons are usually private and expensive outside, of say, art class and school,” Vodyanyk said.

Masha Vodyanyks WIF Group Photo

Unsure of how to find similar service opportunities that were offered in Minnesota, Vodyanyk created her own by applying for a Wisconsin Idea Fellowship (WIF) and writing a grant proposal to teach art at the Eagle Heights Community.

“I specifically chose Eagle Heights because I grew up there and it’s a really big international community which means a lot to me as someone who has international roots,” Vodyanyk said.

In March of 2018, Vodyanyk was announced a recipient of the Wisconsin Idea Fellowship. In addition, 10 other UW-Madison undergraduate students also received the fellowship.

Vodyanyk’s project titled, “Providing an Accessible Art Education for Children” focused on working with kids in the fourth to sixth grade to help refine their art and motor skills.

However, with a community as large as Eagle Heights, many parents wanted their kids to participate. The idea of limiting the participation of kids due to their age posed a challenge.

Vodyanyk ended up teaching two classes with ten kids in each of them—one class with the younger kids and the other with the older. By having two classes, Vodyanyk learned that the older kids enjoyed painting and the younger enjoyed pastel and crayons.

“The hardest thing was figuring out how to keep everyone engaged and learning because first graders are on a different level of knowledge as fifth graders and sixth graders,” Vodyanyk said.

Over the course of her project, Vodyanyk would develop two different curriculums for both classes. Whether it was teaching them about the perspectives of shading or using imagery without the use of text, the energy of excitement that the kids brought to class each week encouraged her to provide a positive teaching experience.

Student drawing in Masha Vodyanyk WIF Project

While her primary goal was to work with fourth to sixth graders, Vodyanyk said that the challenge hasn’t deterred her at all, but rather motivate her to continue doing what she loves and that is to show that one can pursue art as a career whether it’s being an artist that makes art for galleries or someone that animates for DreamWorks.

“Art is definitely something that you can carry on through life whether it is something that will be directly related to your career or not,” Vodyanyk said. “And even if it’s not directly related, it is related in other ways or in ways that’s related to your identity.”

Vodyanyk still has a semester left of her project and she hopes to incorporate more art materials relating to theory and implementing the psychology of art. And once the project ends, it doesn’t stop there. She hopes to make art accessible for everyone.

“After the project ends, I really would hope to continue working with kids or possibly working with people in nursing homes and doing other artwork practices and providing art to people who wouldn’t normally get the opportunity,” Vodyanyk said.