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February 2011

VIS-COM dean makes her travels Avila's gain

Dotty Hamilton
Dean of the School of Visual and Communication Arts

Whenever Dotty Hamilton travels abroad, whether studying, teaching or for just personal pleasure, she always looks forward to bringing her experiences back home. And that includes Avila University. All of her encounters, be they cultural or educational, are there for the sharing for anyone who wants to come ask. She's like a human travel log.

"My own experience in traveling is that … this is an important thing for students to do," said Hamilton, dean of Avila's School of Visual and Communication Arts, from her busy-looking office in Dallavis Center. "It gives students opportunities to see that not everybody lives the same way. It broadens horizons, makes you look at your culture and not take things for granted."

Hamilton started working at Avila part-time in 1991, when she was hired to run the student newspaper, which was then called the Examiner. The following year, she was brought on full-time and made chair of the communications department. She oversaw the change of the name of the newspaper to the Talon and the move from a cut-and-paste operation to electronic layout.

When Avila's communications department and art and design department combined into the School of Visual & Communication Arts, Hamilton became the school's first dean.

"I came from large schools," she said. "University of Missouri, Webster, and then I got my PhD at KU. I loved big campus life and didn't know what to expect when I came here."

She said she quickly found the smaller scale of Avila to her liking.

"You get to know the student unlike the relationships I had when I went to school," she said. "I wouldn't be able to run the same kind of program I run here at a bigger school. You have such access to the administration here that, when I do want to do something, it's easy to pick up the phone and people are really helpful.

"We have our limitations of course. But since I've become interested in international culture exchange, the school has been extremely supportive of that.

"It's benefited students and me."

Hamilton's travels began about 10 years ago, she said, when her school's film department forged a relationship with the University of Pécs in Hungary. Nearly every year since, a faculty member from the School of Visual and Communication Arts has traveled to Hungary to teach for at least two weeks.

Every other year, that faculty member has been Hamilton.

"Last year, I took a sabbatical and taught there the entire semester," she said. "I taught American film history. I was over there for four months."

One of Hamilton's tasks while in Pécs was to moderate film programs for American Corners, a program sponsored by the U.S. State Department.

Hamilton said that, while she taught speaking English, and most students knew at least some English, most of the townspeople spoke none. That made life in Pécs all the more interesting.

"You just learn different ways to do things," she said. "It's a real learning experience teaching students in a different culture. I felt I learned as much from them as they learned from me."

Every time Hamilton has traveled to Hungary, she's also taken time to visit Croatia, the country of her ancestors.

"The first time, I went and visited where my grandparents were born," she said. "That was very emotional for me."

Hamilton said she's also visited former students in Budapest, where she "rode horses and helped put up an electric fence," she said with some glee. Two years ago, she traveled with 14 others to Morocco on a Fulbright-sponsored trip, where she gained a better understanding of Islamic cultures.

"Being a woman was sometimes difficult," she said, recalling an experience one day of sitting in a local coffee shop and discovering she was the only woman there. "I was not always comfortable moving around by myself."

Last spring, back at Avila, Hamilton taught a course in Moroccan film.

"When you do these things, you bring back rich experiences," she said. "I taught students about Morocco as well as Moroccan film.

"It's important to expose students to different cultures and experiences."

Hamilton said she's also started an interdisciplinary studies class with colleague Susan Lawlor and has taken students to Chicago to study urban culture and art. Next fall, she plans on taking that class to Montreal and, soon, to Budapest.

There's also her work with the Kansas International Film Festival, where she's been on the board for the last 10 years and programs the event. And, she's on the board of the International Visitor's Council, which hosts international visitors as guests of the State Department. She's brought visiting filmmakers from places as varied as Quatar, Kosovo, Tibet, Estonia and elsewhere to Kansas City and Avila.

Get the idea Hamilton likes to travel? But it's always been about more than just her experiences. It's always been about the sharing.

"One time, I brought filmmakers from Egypt to Avila," she said. "That was great for our students.

"Now, when the International Visitor's Council has anything involving film, they think of Avila. It's helped make Avila some place
that can be unique." AU


Media Contact: Bob Luder, 816.501.2434