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Adity Saxena | Dean, School of Arts and Design at Woxsen University, India

It is our great honor to introduce Dr. Adity Saxena, a true messenger of happiness and empathy. As the Dean of the School of Arts and Design at Woxsen University, she brings over 20 years of expertise in Design Thinking and education. Dr. Saxena’s leadership extends globally, serving on the Board of Directors of the College Art Association (CAA) and as the India Representative for Restorative Justice Education. Her dedication to creating joyful and impactful learning experiences makes her an inspiration to all. Please join me in celebrating Dr. Saxena’s remarkable contributions to education and society.

What is the most meaningful part of your job?

The most meaningful part of my job is building a community. This community includes my students, alums, senior and junior colleagues, parents, the university's administrative staff, and individuals from our extended network.

As a Dean, I am deeply connected with this community, not just as part of a large and diverse network. As the school's leader, I have the unique opportunity to foster trust. My role is to facilitate connections and empower this incredible community by sharing opportunities, providing mentorship, and listening to everyone with respect.

My journey as a Dean becomes deeply fulfilling when it inspires students to follow a similar path. The community I am building is not just expanding, but it's becoming more inclusive and diverse. I am privileged to know the individual and collective narratives of emotion, success, stories of failure, stress, and the willingness to support each other. Being part of this community is not just a role, but it's a source of personal fulfillment and empowerment, especially during difficult times. It's a testament to the strength and resilience of our community.

Fostering International Collaborations - Adity along with Students & Colleagues
Fostering International Collaborations - Adity along with Students & Colleagues

What is one thing that inspires you?

One thing that consistently inspires me is witnessing the transformative power of education. Seeing students evolve, gain confidence, and discover their passions through learning is incredibly motivating. Whether it's a student overcoming a challenge, achieving a breakthrough in understanding, or creating something innovative and impactful, these moments of growth and achievement remind me of the profound difference education can make in individuals' lives and the world. This continual transformation and empowerment process keeps me passionate and driven in my educational journey.

Delivering a talk
Delivering a talk

What's an urgent issue facing education?

Increasing mental health challenges are one of the most pressing issues faced by the education sector at all levels, from schools to higher education. Having been an integral part of the higher education sector for almost two decades, I would like to share my experiences with the mental health issues among students.

Mental health issues in academia worsened during the COVID-19 outbreak and have become more complex post-pandemic. Today, students face high levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges, significantly impacting their academic performance and overall well-being.

While mental health is a global issue, its contextual aspects vary significantly from country to country. Factors such as culture, parental issues, the financial condition of the family, and the mindset of peers, friends, family, relatives, neighbors, and teachers all play a significant role.

We are all trying to understand why this issue is increasing. Of course, there is academic pressure in our consumer-centric, materialistic world. A university degree aligns directly with job placements and annual salaries, as several plans have evolved around these parameters. Consequently, students often forget to enjoy their learning journey or create a compassionate portfolio, focusing instead on a grade-driven academic journey that frequently leads to high levels of stress and anxiety.

Societal pressure often forces young minds to choose fields they are not passionate about, ignoring their true interests. For instance, STEM courses are often parents' first choice over creative courses. Instead of exploring the career opportunities in innovative fields, young aspirants are forced into these courses, leading to dropouts or changes in majors after one to three years of undergraduate study.

The stigma around mental health in many countries and societies prevents students from seeking help. This stigma is compounded by issues like the lack of confidence to openly disclose gender identity, body shaming, and more. Key factors contributing to the mental health crisis include academic pressure, social media, pandemic impact, lack of support systems, and societal stigma. There is a pressing need for uncomfortable conversations in academia to discuss and strengthen the mental health resources of educational institutions. This includes resource and experience sharing between institutions globally, providing training for educators, fostering a supportive environment, and involving families and communities.

On a personal note, over the past five years, I have seen a significant increase in the number of messages and emails I have been receiving from students and parents expressing concerns about mental health. This is a deep concern for me as an educator, mentor, and academic leader. Addressing the mental health crisis in education is crucial to ensure that students are healthy, resilient, and able to achieve their full potential.

Adity at the OEB Conference in Berlin
Adity at the OEB Conference in Berlin

How did you end up where you are today?

My career journey is a dynamic path with several short and long pauses, which taught me empathy, adaptability, and the power of collaboration. From childhood, I was fascinated with the world of creativity. I was more interested in open-ended exploration since I needed to figure out the direction or goal of my creative journey.

My first paid assignment was assisting a young documentary filmmaker in Kolkata, managing everything from ordering lunch to spending nights in the editing studio. This experience sparked my interest in the film's graphics, leading me to pursue graphic design.

Twenty-five years ago, graphic design was more traditional, focusing on print media. I later expanded to motion graphics and worked as a freelance designer with several brands. Despite this, the industry was less experimental, often following set patterns. During this period, I was invited to deliver industry sessions as a visiting faculty member. Though uncertain about my teaching skills, I continued and discovered the dynamic, exciting nature of the classroom. Teaching allowed me to connect with young minds and build a supportive community.

My career from 2009 to 2020 was a testament to my dedication to the field. As a full-time faculty member at a leading private university in India, I was deeply involved in teaching, research, leadership, and student well-being. I also had the privilege of connecting with a global network of artists, designers, educators, and leaders. Through design thinking and storytelling, I was able to contribute to international projects and meaningful research, collaborating with esteemed experts like Dr. Monique Darrisaw-Akil, Superintendent at Uniondale UFSD, New York; Dr. Ezaz Ahmed, Professor of Business and Dean, MBA Director, Division of Business, Leadership and Communication, Columbia College (SC), Dr. Tom Cavanagh, President, Restorative Justice Education and many more.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, I rebranded my YouTube channel to create meaningful discourse, a pursuit I continue today. My roles as Dean of the School of Arts and Design at Woxsen University, elected member of the Board of Directors of the College Art Association (CAA), and India representative of Restorative Justice Education allow me to connect with professionals committed to making education more resilient and empathetic.

My journey wouldn't have been possible without my mother's support, who introduced me to rich Bengali literature and politics, helping to shape my broader life goals. My spouse, Gaurav Saxena, has been a friend, philosopher, and guide, while my daughter, Pawani Saxena, keeps me connected to the Gen-Z narrative, helping me relate to my students. Throughout my journey, an amazing set of colleagues and mentors have supported me emotionally during difficult times, making every step possible.

A Group Picture with the Teachers of Uniondale, USA with Dr Monique Darrisaw-Akil, Superintendent at UFSD
A Group Picture with the Teachers of Uniondale, USA with Dr Monique Darrisaw-Akil, Superintendent at UFSD

Share one teaching strategy that worked.

One teaching strategy that has worked effectively for me is the implementation of project-based learning. This approach involves students working on real-world projects over an extended period, culminating in a final product, presentation, or performance. Many design projects strategically follow this framework to help students address real-life problems, enhancing their educational experience and enabling a collaborative relationship between teacher and students.

Project-based learning facilitates a multi-directional communication model between the team members and faculty mentors rather than top-button communication. It significantly boosts student engagement by demonstrating the relevance of their work to real-world scenarios. It encourages teamwork and collaboration, helping students develop essential social and communication skills. Additionally, this method fosters critical thinking and problem-solving as students navigate complex tasks and challenges. It provides opportunities for creativity and innovation in their approaches and solutions. Furthermore, PBL allows students to apply theoretical knowledge in practical, hands-on ways, reinforcing their learning and making the educational experience more impactful.

This approach increased engagement as students were excited about creating something with real-world application and value. It facilitated skill development, enabling them to improve their design skills, work effectively in teams, and enhance their ability to present and defend their ideas. Additionally, students gained practical experience and produced a portfolio piece that could aid them in their future careers.

This project-based approach made the learning process more engaging and meaningful and helped students build confidence in their skills and abilities.


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2 comentarios

Catherine Harper
Catherine Harper
13 jul

An extraordinary read about an extraordinary woman - a "true believer" in educational transformation and the power of learning. Inspiring and affecting - well done, dear Adity !

Me gusta

11 jul

Bravo, Adity, your well defined educational view reflects a clear future for all design disciplines.

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