Sculpting a Better Future

By Drew Menard, October 11, 2017

Each story in this special feature section demonstrates a tenet of the “We The Champions” Declaration, part of a university-wide project that aims to tell the world how Liberty is fulfilling its mission of Training Champions for Christ.

We The Champions: Inspire Creativity

Inspiring creativity in students is woven into every academic discipline at Liberty University. In the Department of Studio & Digital Arts (SADA), students find ways to inspire others through hands-on, creative design using state-of-the-art technology. Their ability to impact culture is limited only by their imaginations.

The creative arts have a powerful platform in an entertainment-obsessed culture. That is why Todd Smith, SADA chair, incorporates storytelling into courses, teaching students how to create a storyboard before designing and sculpting a character.

“I will have students create a story arc with a redemptive element; in that way we are connecting the Judeo-Christian ethic that undergirds our education,” Smith said. “I think it is really important for us, as Christians, to be visual storytellers, and to do it in such a way that we can relate to culture and help impact culture.”

In one course, students work together in groups to create original characters, just like a concept team at an animation studio. In another course, they don costumes they have created and use a full-body scanner to produce a digital 3D character. The character is then made into a figurine using the 3D printer in Liberty’s 3D Innovation Lab.

For students like senior studio art major Katie Barber, who aspires to work in animation, these projects provide invaluable experience.

“Up until that (class), I had not been challenged by anyone other than myself in my own character creations,” she said. “It was really fun to collaborate with a group of people — which is what you will have to do in the animation industry.”

“I really love creating characters, exploring different designs, and just figuring out ways to portray different personalities and stories through pictures,” Barber added. “I feel like I’ve become a much more well-rounded artist through all of the classes.”

Liberty’s artists are also using their creativity to meet the needs of others. Alumna Rachel Lawson (’15) studied studio art at Liberty with the goal of applying those skills to doctoral work in occupational therapy. Now, in her final year as a doctoral student at Huntington University, Lawson is collaborating with Smith, her professional mentor, to create 3D books that help foster engagement and learning in students with limited vision or blindness.

“Illustrations are a vital aspect of children’s books. They provide a means to help children understand the story, give detail and humor within the story, help children stay attentive, and foster development,” Lawson explained. “However, for children with visual impairments, they are unable to engage with a story through the pictures. The aim of my project is to help bridge that gap with an innovative method of providing 3D picture books for children with low vision.”

Dr. Ronald Hawkins, provost and chief academic officer, said inspiring creativity is directly related to Liberty’s Christian mission. Student artists are taught to see the power that listening to a piece of music or studying a painting can have, not just on an emotional level but also on a spiritual one.

“God has embedded in His creation a conversation with us about His majesty, about His absolute, unbelievable attention to detail,” Hawkins said. “We realize that, in a very special sense, we are now encountering God in His conversation … in the world of creation.”

To be involved in the “We The Champions” project and read more inspiring stories from the Liberty community, visit and follow #WeTheChampions on social media.

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