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Alumni profile: Creative thinking turns science educator into artist

Kristen B. Morales

May 29, 2019

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"I started out with the intention of being a professor of science education. About halfway through, I remember saying to my wife, 'Maybe I should just do art?'"

At the time, Jamie Calkin (Ph.D. '05) was a full-time doctoral student who was taking evening and weekend classes in drawing and painting to blow off steam. The son of educators, Calkin says he felt being a classroom teacher was the pinnacle of creating positive change in the world. But try as he might, he just couldn't gel with the job.

Then, one summer, he set up a booth at the annual AthFest art and music festival in downtown Athens. The response was so positive, he realized his true calling just as he was completing his own teacher training. "For my dissertation, I used my paintings—it was a study of science using art in a fifth-grade classroom. I also drew the kids while they were learning."

He's grateful to professor Deborah Tippins, who took a chance on Calkin's vision. Today, he has made the transition from academia to full-time artist; you can find his work on notecards, ties, T-shirts, art canvases, and even larger than life on the sides of buildings in Athens, Atlanta, and elsewhere.

"I had to recognize that being a teacher wasn't the best thing for me, and the Ph.D. was a part of that," he says. "I'm not made to be a professor. This is what I think I'm meant to be, at least right now. I still consider myself an educator, but I had to change that definition."