A graduate of York’s popular Concurrent Visual Art and Education program Betty Zhang is living her best life. After two years of teaching and travelling in Europe, she’s returned to Toronto and supply teaching while pursuing her Masters of Professional Education online at Western University. Her thesis continues to develop a concept she came up with at York and has tested in a number of classrooms since: using visual arts to teach math and vice versa.
Betty’s path perfectly demonstrates the concept of return on investment. The amount of effort she put into her education shows when she talks about what she got out of it. By being thoughtful with her course work she found personal angles within assignments (for example, instead of writing an essay on the Bauhaus movement, she explored the Bauhaus impact on art education). She also realized early on the benefits of picking an overarching creative theme to her coursework that she could explore across different classes.
Betty volunteered at heaps of clubs in her first and second year, working alongside senior students was an education in itself. “It was intimidating at first, they had a totally different vocabulary and were very knowledgeable when talking about art. I remember feeling like a child! But as I continued to listen, I started to learn more and more. I would recommend it to all new students – get to know the students who are involved in the student associations and those who are always hanging out in the studio. That’s really when you become an art student, when you live and breathe art so much it becomes your life.”
In her upper years, Betty took on more responsibility in the clubs that she felt the most connected to. From Co-President of the Visual Art Student Association (VASA) to Vice President of Finance for the Creative Arts Student Association (CASA) and Curator of the Eleanor Winters Art Gallery (EWAG), she learned critical soft skills like leadership, and negotiation plus got lots of hands on experience with event planning and professional level book keeping.
To help make time for all this activity and networking she lived on campus in residence all five years of her degree. “It saved me so much time and energy not needing to commute. It felt easier to say yes to different opportunities on campus knowing it would only take me minutes to walk home afterwards.”
In her third year she felt like her interests in education, art and math were pulling her apart. She wanted to feel like she could progress and move forward equally and together instead of dividing up her time. She started experimenting in her art to integrate the three. For an art critique in her third year, she essentially taught a math class to her fellow art students. In her final Education practicum during her fifth year, she taught Grade 11 and 12 math and had a number of assignments infused with different strands of visual arts (sculpture, design, and so on). “One of the things I enjoyed about art school was having room to express myself. I wanted to replace some math tests with open-ended inquiry driven assignments that have more than one correct answer to the questions.”
After graduating she landed a job teaching math in the UK. She took advantage of being across the pond to travel all over Europe and to visit all the art galleries she had learned about in art history classes.
Now she’s back in Ontario supply teaching for the Toronto District School Board and continuing trailblazing in her creative visual way of teaching math through pursuing her Masters of Professional Education online at Western University.
“I believe the fundamental beauty of these two subjects is not to learn how to draw a perfect portrait or how to differentiate an equation, but to learn how to think creatively through solving mathematical and artistic problems.”