CREATIVE ENERGY Sparking Connections That Fuel the Future

CREATIVE ENERGY Sparking Connections That Fuel the Future

On an overcast afternoon in August, a member of Shenandoah’s staff walked across Sarah’s Glen toward the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre. The air reverberated with the thrum of heavy equipment breaking rock at the construction site for the new Health & Life Sciences Building. The staff member paused, listening as the clanging noise of the construction equipment transformed into a crashing point and counterpoint that echoed in her heartbeat. In the stillness of her breath, the metallic clatter captured her imagination and synthesized into music.

When you can view something in your world and see it through a new lens, you never look at it the same way again. In one brilliant moment of inspiration, you gain a new perspective that enables you to connect ideas and expand your life experience. That’s creativity. At Shenandoah, students, faculty and staff live a culture of creativity every day, discovering and creating unexpected connections that transform old ways of thinking and prepare students to become innovative leaders in their chosen careers. 

Where Fashion Meets Recycling 

Shenandoah Conservatory costume design alumni Maxwell Losgar ’12, of Queens, N.Y., and Sarah Mickahail ’12, of Bluemont, Va., met as undergraduate students in Shenandoah Conservatory’s costume design program. Working in the costume shop, their sewing skills and design talent were soon in great demand by other students, who brought pants to be hemmed and dresses to be altered. Losgar recognized an opportunity to bring their own unique designs to the alteration work, and from there, he and Mickahail quickly made the transition to fashion designers with a completed custom clothing line. 

During breaks from their work in the costume shop, Losgar and Mickahail walked along Abrams Creek and talked about their future as designers. While walking, they would stop to pick up trash they found beside the creek.

“My Dad was a garbage man, so I would always pick up trash as I was taught,” said Losgar. “Sarah helped, and soon, the trash drew our attention from fashion and redirected it toward the earth. We decided to create clothing made from reclaimed and recycled materials — fashion that would be one-of-a-kind, but create little to no waste.”

“Our company, OfficialSalmon, is completely eco-friendly and uses only repurposed and recycled materials,” said Mickahail. “We work with our customers to figure out their character, and we put that character into the clothes we design for them so that we can create something they love.”

Losgar credits their experiences as Shenandoah students with helping to develop the creative energy that sparked the vision of OfficialSalmon and enabled them to bring their dreams to life.

“My education is theatre-based, and that has helped fuel my imagination as I segue into fashion,” said Losgar. “Socially, Shenandoah was very demanding, so my networking skills skyrocketed as far as fostering relationships with other artists and other business people. Having the Harry F. Byrd, Jr. School of Business there helped me meet business-minded individuals as well as creative types, so the options to develop our business are endless.”

Spirituality Expressed Through Creativity

The nurturing of creativity across campus plays an important role not only in helping students shape their careers, but in the growth and expression of their spirituality. Dean of Spiritual Life Justin Allen, M.Div., D.Min., believes Shenandoah’s focus on creativity and diversity empowers students with the confidence to contribute their own rich and authentic gifts to the experience of worship.

“Each year our University Chapel at Noon is different because the gifts of the students who participate in worship are unique,” said Dr. Allen. “One week we’ll have a student tap dance to ‘Grace Like Rain,’ and the next week we’ll have a student acting out the story of the healing of a paralytic man. Students use their gifts in many different ways to make spiritual life at Shenandoah unique and powerful, educational and inspiring.”

Working with the Office of Spiritual Life, students also use their creativity to raise funds and gather volunteers for the Winchester Area Temporary Thermal Shelter (WATTS), where they serve dinner and celebrate community with the guests who need a warm, safe place to stay during the coldest months of the winter.

“The creative energy of Shenandoah’s students makes anything possible and makes us a more loving and caring community,” said Allen.

Creativity as the Current for Healing

Physical Therapy faculty member Edward Schrank, Ph.D., PT, understands how creative energy guides both his work with patients and his interactions with students in Shenandoah’s physical therapy program.

For the past nine years, Schrank has taught the department’s only online, doctoral-level course, “Starting Your Own Private Practice in Physical Therapy,” designed to prepare students with the nuts- and-bolts knowledge they need to become successful, autonomous physical therapists. Although the program’s distance format offers challenges in faculty-student interactions, Schrank uses discussion boards and a variety of assignments to engage students in creative thinking and to challenge some of their preconceived ideas about their abilities.

“This is an online class, so there’s not a lot of personal interaction,” said Schrank. “It’s through the discussion boards and through the assignments that students find something that sparks their passion about private practice. One of the first assignments they complete is an aptitude test to become an entrepreneur. There’s always that student who comes back to the discussion board with a high aptitude for entrepreneurship and never knew it, and is excited to think about the possibility of being the type of person who starts his or her own practice.”

As their final assignment, students create a business plan for their physical therapy practice. Beyond preparing students for the logistics of running their own business, the assignment allows them to explore their career goals from a new perspective. As Schrank stresses, this creative energy is an essential part of daily practice for physical therapists. 

“The great thing about Shenandoah is that creative spark is all around us,” said Schrank. “Every day, physical therapists have to use their creative energy in order to engage their clients. That might be something as simple as changing a single exercise, or it could involve using their own brand of creativity to create a shoe orthotic out of duct tape.” 

The Business of Creativity

Last spring, senior business administration, criminal justice and political science major Collin Sack participated in the Undergraduate Business Plan Challenge in Richmond, Va., with five other business students and Associate Professor of Management and Director of the Institute of Entrepreneurship Alesia Slocum, Ph.D. Sack and the Shenandoah team presented their business plan for Catch-A-Ride, a website the students designed to connect students with each other and with major travel hubs such as Dulles International Airport and the closest subway train and bus stations.

“The competition was a great learning experience,” said Sack. “I’ve taken the fundamentals of class and the business plan competition, and I’ve used them in the day-to-day operations of my entertainment company, SACCO Entertainment. I’ve created a business plan and a mission statement, and I’m marketing my own elevator pitch designed specifically for my business.”

Sack’s company is truly a family endeavor, with operations run by Sack; his twin brother, Ashtin; his mother and fellow Shenandoah student Julie Basile. Sack describes the company as providing an “all around entertainment environment,” including disc jockey (DJ) services, live band, professional sound rental, catering and sound-and-light reinforcement.

Although he started the business before becoming a Shenandoah student, Sack credits the business school faculty and his experiences at Shenandoah with giving him the inspiration and creative energy to pursue his lifelong passion and build it into a lifetime career.

“Shenandoah University has given me a knowledge of business I didn’t have before I came here. The faculty have inspired me in so many ways, helping me become a diverse and well-rounded student. Shenandoah has taught me to never give up, to strive for excellence, to be aware of my surroundings and to look at situations from different perspectives.”

Creative energy is the lifeblood of the Shenandoah experience, the electric current that continually drives the university community to discover exciting connections, explore new ways of thinking and build a vibrant future. Whether pursuing a career in customized, eco-friendly fashion design, teaching online courses that prepare today’s students to become tomorrow’s leaders in health professions, celebrating the diversity of worship experiences or applying creative thinking and business planning experience to create a lifelong dream, Shenandoah’s faculty and students immerse themselves in a culture of creativity, a culture where, on an overcast August afternoon, the noise of heavy construction equipment can — for a brief moment — be transformed into music. 

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