A gift from alumni Charles S. (A.B. 1994) and Jane Y. Kim (A.B. 1992) will support students in the Lloyd Scholars for the Writing and Arts (LSWA), a Michigan Learning Community (MLC) in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA).

LSWA is a living-learning community for students interested in writing, performing, and visual arts. All first-year LSWA community members live together in Alice Lloyd Hall. Students are invited to "be creative, whatever your major," and represent a wide range of personal backgrounds and academic disciplines. Lloyd Scholars benefit from a wide range of opportunities–they can hone existing talents or explore new art forms; submit their work for publication in the Arts & Literary Journal; take on a student leadership role; use the art studio and music practice rooms in Lloyd Hall; and take small group, seminar-style courses that earn LSA credits right in their dorm.

The couple were in the process of establishing a new scholarship in LSA, the Haneul Studies in South Korea Fund for students studying abroad in South Korea, and were curious about the other types of engaged learning experiences available to students on campus. The variety of Michigan Learning Communities in LSA sparked their interest. There are now more than ten residential MLCs available to students on campus—each is based in a different residence hall and nurtures a distinct intellectual interest. Jane especially appreciated the MLCs’ efforts to "combine the personal attention of a small college environment with the unparalleled resources of a large research university."

When the Kims heard about LSWA, they knew they wanted to invest in it as well. "The university has added so many more learning communities since I was at Michigan," Kim noted. "I love the bigness of the university because you get to meet a huge variety of people and intense school spirit—but it is really so nice to find your small community within a big community."

"LSWA in particular jumped out at me, it is something I wish I’d had an opportunity to be a part of," said Kim, who earned an economics degree from LSA. Her husband, Charlie, was a religion major, but she says they both enjoyed English and writing as undergraduates.

"I thought how nice it would be to take instruction and classes in the arts even if you're not an arts major—to explore your artistic interests while you're still embroiled in your challenging Michigan curriculum," said Jane. "Students at Michigan work really hard and it's great to see that they have these creative outlets."

Adrian Valbuena just finished their first year in LSWA. An anthropology major, Valbuena, heard about the program from a high school friend who is a year ahead at Michigan. Valbuena thought it seemed like a fun way to continue to do art in college—but it's turned out to be so much more.

"One of my biggest fears coming into college was that I wouldn't be able to do a lot of the arts that I really love to do because I'm not pursuing an art degree. So I was really worried about losing my creativity," said Valbuena, whose creative outlets in high school included sewing and cooking. "When I found out about LSWA, I jumped at the opportunity."

As their first year at U-M came to an end, Valbuena reflected on living in an environment where the arts are valued. "Some of the experiences that I've had thanks to this community were incredibly memorable. Like when a LSWA group went thrifting together one weekend and one of our visiting artists, who is a professional photographer, came along and generously shot photos of all of us. It’s mind-boggling that I was able to do that."

Sirianna Blanck (left) at a Friday morning tea and pastry gathering in the Alice Lloyd Hall living room, with two other student leaders, Julia Watt (center) and Sneha Dhandapani (right).

Every LSWA member joins an arts-related club, and Valbuena chose something completely new to them, printmaking. Other clubs include theater, storybuilding, poetry, and fiber arts. Valbuena notes that linocut printmaking—carving an image into linoleum, covering it in ink, and printing onto fabric or paper—would be an expensive hobby to explore on one's own, but LSWA makes it accessible.

"I've gotten to do more arts this year than I ever dreamed of," said Valbuena. "But I also met so many wonderful people, my closest group of friends. And the program directors make it very personal and I really appreciate that. You feel a friendly connection with your teachers, instead of a formal professor and student relationship."

Second-year student Sirianna Blanck (LSA '26) led Valbuena's printmaking club this year. LSWA prides itself on its leadership opportunities—students can lead clubs, or serve as creative mentors, resident advisors, student assistants, and student recruiters. Blanck has also been a student recruiter and looks forward to taking on the creative mentor role in Fall 2024. She pursued leadership in LSWA because, "LSWA is one of my safe spaces on campus and I really wanted to not only maintain that connection for myself, but also help build that welcoming space for incoming students. I came from the South not knowing any other students, and I want to contribute to creating a community for other students in the same situation."

Deepening Coursework Connections through the Arts

LSWA's mission is to cultivate students' critical reading, writing, arts, and thinking skills, and promote the link between creativity and academic excellence, in a diverse and inclusive environment. Each first-year student in the program is required to take an LSWA class each semester, one of which fulfills their first-year writing requirement. Valbuena chose "Writing About Arts and Resistance," based on the campus-wide theme for the Fall 2023 semester that explored the power of the visual, performing, and literary arts to shape cultural and political narratives. The course examined the theme through the study of diverse art forms, from public murals and graffiti, to drag. Another of Valbuena’s courses in LSWA, "Handmade: DIY Culture and Crafting," studied the politics, values, ethics, and social impact of DIY culture, and included hands-on crafting time.

As an anthropologist, Valbuena has found that viewing history through the lens of the arts helps them understand their coursework better. "In my class about craft, for example, connecting gender stereotypes in crafting to how a language is perceived by people who don't speak it…there is a shocking amount of overlap that you can find between things that on the surface seem like they have nothing to do with art."

Blanck, a Program in the Environment (PitE) major, agreed. "The arts perspective I've gained in LSWA helps me have a more holistic approach when it comes to my other work. Especially when it comes to studying the environment, in internships, and my education in general, creativity is encouraged," she said. "At my internship last semester for the Environmental Defense Fund, I spearheaded a social media campaign bringing art into the conversation around air pollution. I ended up being invited back to continue working at EDF after last summer."

"My favorite thing about being a Lloyd Scholar has been the opportunities it’s given me. I got to paint glass for a year, learn how to carve linoleum to make prints, and meet so many artists," said Blanck. "We go on trips to local museums. Earlier this year, I got to go to an experimental film festival with our art director Mark Tucker. I've been able to try out so many different things."

The Kims' gift to the expendable LSWA Strategic Fund will allow the program to continue to develop student engagement opportunities, expose students to new perspectives through artist and writer residencies, and take them further afield for travel-based experiential learning.

"We are so grateful to the Kims for their support," said Scott Beal, LSWA program director. "Their generous gift affirms the potential of living-learning communities to nurture students' belonging on campus as well as the power of the arts to enrich students' academic and personal growth at college and beyond."

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