When Diné College instructor Paul Willeto was hired in 1981, he inherited a modest one-room fine arts program. After 35 years of teaching, and three intense years of program development, the college’s board of regents gave Willeto and the fine arts faculty the green light to submit a four-year fine arts baccalaureate degree program to the Higher Learning Commission for accreditation.
The new Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) program is specifically for studio arts and photography. Students will apply to the program upon completion of an Associate of Fine Arts at Diné College or at another institution. Students will then complete 52 hours of upper-level BFA curriculum. The program is expected to be ready for enrollment in the fall of 2017.
This new program is a far cry from the one-room set-up that greeted Willeto in 1981. Today, the fine arts program is housed in the north wing of the Gorman Classroom Building at the college’s main campus in Tsaile. The program has a gallery and three dedicated classrooms managed by two full-time faculty members: Don Whitesinger who teaches painting, design, and survey of Native American art; and Karen Willeto who teaches photography, drawing, and survey courses in art history. Paul Willeto now teaches full-time in the Humanities Division, but was still instrumental in developing the new program.
Together, the three faculty members had plenty of practice building fine arts programs. The group designed and received approval for a Certificate of Digital Arts program in 2015. Students can begin enrolling in the certificate program in fall 2016. Eventually, they plan to expand the digital arts program under the umbrella of the BFA, along with developing additional baccalaureate-level fine arts programs.
The fine arts faculty recognizes the importance of continuing to build the BFA. “Our students are naturally creative…it is in their nature. It’s important to give our students a creative outlet to balance the analytical side of their intelligence,” Whitesinger says as he explains why fine arts are an important part of a Native educational institution.
The new BFA comes on the heels of an already successful associate’s degree in fine arts. Karen Willeto and Whitesinger continue to guide students toward award-winning success. Most recently, their students took first and third place in a national arts competition at the American Indian Higher Education Consortium Student Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The next step for the fine arts faculty is to begin drafting curriculum to be submitted to HLC along with the program framework. This new program joins recent HLC submissions for seven other new academic programs at the college, including a Bachelor of Science in biology, a Bachelor of Science in secondary mathematics, a Bachelor of Science in secondary science, a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, an Associate of Science in pre-engineering, a computer technology certificate program, and a Geographical Information System certificate program.