Tech’s front porch

Cutline for ukulele photo: A ukulele invented for children with cerebral palsy through the combined efforts of the College of Engineering and the College of Fine Arts.
Photo by Emma Kenner.

Tech’s College of Fine Arts is a part of the university often overlooked and underappreciated.

One reason the school may be overlooked is in its name, Tech is probably not the first school that art students would think of. Despite this, Dean Jennifer Shank said the university and administration does a good job of highlighting the college’s accomplishments

“When you’re talking about an upper-level administrator like the president … it’s like having a lot of children. You can’t pick a favorite. So I think they do a good job of supporting the things we do in the college,” Shank said.

Shank said this small college’s biggest advantage is the “richness” of having different minds on campus working together.

Physical separation adds to the belief that school is overlooked. The College of Fine Arts has two separate locations, one at the edge of Tech’s main campus and another in Smithville, Tennessee.

“We sometimes feel like we’re in time out,” said faculty member Amy Swafford.

The Appalachian Center for Craft is a part of Tech’s nationally accredited School of Art, Craft and Design.

The craft center is a major part of the College of Fine Arts which opened 40 years ago. The campus functions independently from Tech and offers eight different bachelor’s degrees, focusing on clay, fibers, glass, metals, and woodwork. Shank said schools she has previously worked did not offer specific areas of study.

Shank added there is a separation initiated by the fine arts students as well.

“I don’t want it to be a blanket statement but typically art and music students find their comradery and their student involvement within the college… so I think they stay to themselves in a way that maybe other majors don’t,” Shank said.

Shank highlighted the positives by describing the college as “Tech’s front porch.” She explained there are 300 events a year which bring the community to campus.

Shank said the college aims to work with other parts of campus. One specific example she gave was a ukulele created by students partnering with an adaptive engineering class in spring 2019.

This ukulele was invented for children with Cerebral Palsy and Shank described it as “the coolest thing she had ever seen.”


“With a 3-D printer in a class, they invented this. We wouldn’t have that at another university. We wouldn’t have that access to work with other people in different fields,” Dean Shank said.

This project is an example of how the arts and engineering can go hand in hand. This is a topic the dean and the other faculty members would like for the students and community to understand.

Shank used the furniture in her office to show how engineering and the arts can work together.

“Someone had to invent a chair or a desk, but an art student had to design the aesthetic of it. That’s something people forget about. A product can be wonderful but if it isn’t appealing, people won’t want it. That’s where the arts and our students come in,” she said.