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Bellevue University Professor Leverages Art, Philosophy to Enhance Careers


As technology continues to evolve the workplace, educators must adapt to ensure students receive the most relevant, applicable degree programs possible. Bellevue University recently honored Assistant Professor David Joel Thomas with its Innovation in Teaching Award for doing just that.

Combining Two Specialties

Thomas is the Program Director of Creative Arts at the University. The program combines philosophy, art and culture in general education courses for residential, corporate and online students. These offerings are available for both undergraduate and graduate students.

As he holds both philosophy and art degrees, Thomas felt he always had to choose between teaching one subject or the other. When he saw Bellevue University was seeking someone with the same unlikely combination of degrees, he was excited to take the role. “I always wanted to consolidate the two,” he said.

Applying Art in New Ways

In just over two years, Thomas has evolved the arts curriculum for Bellevue University students. He has transitioned from traditional art classes like painting and drawing to learning in ways that fuel today’s careers. He also launched the University’s first artist residency program.

One of these offerings is a social entrepreneurship certificate, which provides a foundation for making social impact though the arts. “It allows students to look around corners they didn’t know existed,” Thomas said.

“Our courses can help with any path, from athletics to business,” Thomas said. “We focus on multimedia, multidisciplinary projects that give students practical skills and resources.”

These skills include problem solving, cognitive flexibility, and integrative creative inquiry. “Some people don’t realize how art principles like exploration and ideation can be applied to business,” Thomas said.

David Joel Thomas, Program Director of Creative Arts

Our courses can help with any path, from athletics to business. We focus on projects that give students practical skills and resources.

David Joel Thomas, Program Director of Creative Arts

Letting Creativity Flow

Thomas focuses on methodologies, processes and concepts, and lets students find their own ways to bring their ideas to life. In-person students build in the studio, while online students explore creativity from the comfort of their homes.

“I do not teach to virtuosity but to creativity” Thomas said. “I really want students to have fun in the studio. There’s no correct way – who am I to interrupt the creative process?”

He encourages his students to pursue creative risk taking and bring their social commentaries and visions to life.

New Pathways Spring From Collaboration

Thomas said he appreciates the recognition he’s received, but that his achievements are the results of collaborative efforts. “I didn’t get that award – we did. I couldn’t have done that without a whole bunch of people that were part of the effort.”

One example of this was his work with the science department on a greenhouse project, the University’s first art and science integration.

“When I first arrived on campus, I was told ‘have a vision, make a proposal and we’ll make it happen,'" Thomas said. “Collaboration with other colleges, departments, and outside partners has been amazing. Everybody here is so open to sharing ideas.”

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