Shepherd art professor is a finalist for W.Va. Professor of the Year

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV—A Shepherd University art professor is one of five finalists for the 2015 West Virginia Professor of the Year. The Faculty Merit Foundation selected Sonya Evanisko, professor of art and coordinator of the painting and drawing program, for the honor.

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Sonya Evanisko, professor of art and coordinator of the painting and drawing program at Shepherd University.

Evanisko, who has worked at Shepherd since 1993, teaches courses in painting, drawing, visual thinking skills, and professional practices with an emphasis on empowering students to have successful careers.

“I’m not going to assume every student I work with wants to produce art to show in a gallery,” she said. “My students are future educators, some are future web designers, some will be fabricators, and some will be commercial and fine arts photographers. These are also future professionals who will work in creative nonprofits, or who will run community art centers and galleries.”

In 1995, Evanisko developed the curriculum for and taught the first art business course at Shepherd.

“Sonya views each student as a soon-to-be professional and works to prepare them for that eventuality,” said Dow Benedict, dean of the School of Arts and Humanities. “In addition to providing them with the skills and knowledge required as a producing artist, she is equally devoted to preparing them to be a professional and in her courses combines information and experience about the business side of the art world in addition to the work required to be a skilled artist. Her success shows in the variety of directions her students take upon graduation.”

The five finalists for professor of the year went through an in-person interview in late January in Charleston after submitting a lengthy application last fall that included a 1,000-word essay.

“Even though I’ve been teaching the past 23 years, putting my teaching philosophy in 1,000 words was a little daunting,” Evanisko said. “I am a firm believer that an educated society is a better one across the board. When people are educated in whatever subject, I think they make better decisions about their health, the environment, their families, and the community they live in.”

For the past 19 years Evanisko has served as the art department’s academic advisor during summer orientation and the registration of new students. In 2015 she earned the Outstanding Advisor Award, which is given to a faculty member whose work demonstrates that advisee retention and success are linked directly to advisor support, guidance, and exemplary knowledge of campus resources

“I love my first-year students,” Evanisko said. “I love being the point of first contact for the department for them.”

Evanisko said many of the students she works with are the first in their family to attend college, so they often face challenges that students whose parents went to college don’t have.

“Whether that challenge is financial, which causes them to have to work while they’re going through school, or a health issue, or they’re helping to care for a family member, there are real challenges,” Evanisko said. “But I think that they’re very eager to learn and earn a degree and that they have a good work ethic.”

A self-described nurturer, when she works with incoming students Evanisko tries to learn as much as possible about their backgrounds so she can assist them with some of the challenges they face and individualize the classwork to help them find success.

“I feel there’s this broader role that an educator can play as a mentor, a role model, sometimes a counselor, and a friend,” she said.

“Sonya has been an outstanding member of the Department of Contemporary Art and Theater,” said Rhonda Smith, department chair. “She is a passionate teacher and mentor who focuses on the needs of the individual student while understanding the importance of delivering timely and effective instruction and information as both an advisor and an instructor.”

Evanisko also believes it’s important to give students firsthand experiences. To that end, she’s organized many trips to places like New York City, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C., so students have the opportunity to see art and experience culture in person. Evanisko has taken students abroad numerous times to Europe, Africa, China, and South America to visit museums. She organized three trips to Peru that involved hiking the Inca trail and trekking through Machu Picchu.

Throughout her career, Evanisko has had to balance her roles as a parent, professor, and working artist. Aside from her teaching and advising duties at Shepherd, Evanisko contributes to the community by serving as a juror and helping organize community art exhibitions, helping select films for the American Conservation Film Festival, and starting the Town Run Community Garden, a native woodland, one-acre garden that provides green space for the community and campus. Evanisko runs her own art studio and her work has been exhibited in New York City, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and all over the East Coast.

Evanisko was an invited exhibiting artist representing America in the 1999 Biennale of Contemporary Art in Florence, Italy, and most recently her work was included in the Brooklyn Library Sketchbook Tour exhibit that traveled throughout the United States and Canada.

The five Professor of the Year finalists will be honored at a March 30 reception and banquet in Charleston, where the 2015 Professor of the Year will be announced. A $10,000 cash award is given to the candidate selected as Professor of the Year, with $2,500 going to the runner-up, and smaller awards to the other finalists. The award is presented with financial support from Graystone Consulting.

The Faculty Merit Foundation was created in 1984 to recognize and reward innovation and creativity among the faculties of West Virginia’s public and private colleges and universities. Win or lose, Evanisko said she is excited to be one of the five finalists.

“I do what I do here because I feel like it’s my life’s calling,” she said. “I feel so fortunate for the sheer fact that I’m able to do this for a living—something I’m so passionate about. So when someone is highlighting you, thanking you for what you do, it’s rewarding.