Vivacity matters in teaching


Xiaohong Zhang

Self portrait by Dr. Xiaohong Zhang

Ivy Steege, Arts and Recreation Editor

Passion is the driving force behind a UWW Professor, Xiaohong Zhang. With over 50 group and solo exhibitions under her belt, Zhang has made a monumental impact on the Arts and Design department at Whitewater. 

I’m passionate about being an artist. I feel I’m very fortunate to be an art teacher. I love the fact that I’m able to share my knowledge and media art creation experiences with my students and help them grow as media artists and creative thinkers. My passion for new technology and media art motivates me to make media art and teach media art,” commented Zhang. “I want to be a good teacher. I found out that research and creating artwork in the field also support my teaching. I can share my working experience with my students during my teaching.” 

The enthusiasm for teaching Zhang shows, can be seen in the students taking her classes as well. 

“Not knowing much about Photoshop or Illustrator was pretty difficult, but I think Dr. Zhang taught it well. I can now say that I can use Photoshop and Illustrator fairly well,” said Media Arts and Game Development Major, Logan Mueller about taking Visual Design for Digital Media with Zhang. “I think she’s a great professor.”

Zhang, who works in Whitewater’s Arts and Design department, is originally from Hubei, China where she received undergraduate education at the Hubei Academy of Fine Arts. In 2002, she obtained her Masters of Fine Arts from Southern Illinois University. 

“I never planned or decided to be a teacher. I applied for a teaching position after I received my MFA degree. I was offered a teaching job at UW Whitewater, and I enjoy teaching,” said Zhang, who states she originally went to graduate school to become a full-time artist. It wasn’t until her classmates at SIU started applying for teaching positions, that she decided to as well. “Maybe this is destiny. The majority of my family members are teachers. My mother is an elementary school teacher, my husband is a teacher and even my younger brother is a teacher.”

In her time at SIU, Zhang emerged herself into Western digital art – such as 3-D animation – and continues to do so while teaching at UWW. Her displayed artwork mixes traditional Chinese art forms with digital editing. 

She states, “I was traditionally trained in academic art forms like Chinese brush painting, Western-style drawing, painting, and graphic design during the early 1990s.  I had always wanted to find a way to give the Chinese folk art of paper-cutting, traditionally done by housewives, the recognition it deserved. Over the past twenty years, I have reimagined the representation of this folk art by blending my contemporary digital techniques with traditional art forms, motifs, and symbols.”

Students have had a chance to work on these mixed medium artworks with Zhang. In 2020, Kyle Grzyb completed a research assistantship with the professor; and more recently, the aforementioned Logan Mueller and Zhang worked together through SURF UWW. The program is a mentored summer research project spanning ten-weeks where students, such as Mueller, continually learn to improve their skills. 

When asked what he learned from Zhang during SURF UWW, Mueller said, “Definitely a grasp of Blender a little more and the online application of that. Also, the more Fine Arts side of media arts and game development. I think she really helped me grasp that because we’re actually constructing our exhibit, which will be displayed. There are a lot of processes that I really was never introduced to, and then she really helped me with the non-digital aspect of it.”

A person who is destined to share their craft will find a way to. With over 20 years of experience teaching at UWW, Zhang incites creativity in her students while still finding excitement in her own art.