2015 Community-Engaged Scholarship Award

C-E Scholarship Award CWA FacultyErica Rasmussen, James Byrne, Interim President Devinder Malhotra, David Means, and Greg Mellas, ICES director.


Article Correction: This article previously credited James Byrne with bringing the Qhia Dab Neeg Hmong film festival to Metropolitan State. For the past five years, the university has collaborated with the nonprofit arts organization, In Progress, to host Qhia Dab Neeg  with support from the Institute for Community Engagement and Scholarship (ICES), Professor Byrne, Asian Student Organization and other departments.


At the April 28 employee awards event, Professor Maythee Kantar, Communication, Writing and the Arts (CWA) Department, College of Arts and Sciences, presented the Community-Engaged Scholarship Award, recognizing work that individually and collectively creates community and deepens engagement through the arts. The university’s art environment includes the Gordon Parks gallery, national award-winning student-written plays, readings by creative writers, spoken word poetry festivals, staged readings of screenplays, community film festivals and more than 20 years of the Strange Attractors Intermedia productions, all orchestrated by the six award recipients.

Alison McGhee, professor and author, is the founder of Metropolitan’s creative writing program and winner of national and international writing awards. McGhee creates welcoming poetry programs for the university community, bringing community writers of every genre and perspective to campus events and classes.

Ed Lee, associate professor and an award-winning poet, is a creative writing faculty member, and his work with the spoken word community has drawn hundreds of young people to campus for a spoken word festival.

Gail Smogard, theater professor and director, seeks to make Metropolitan State the cutting edge place to be for serious original theater work from those who are underrepresented. Original productions about being transgender in small town Minnesota, youth suicide in Paraguay and the recent “My Soul and Other Broken Things” are examples of works from a class, developed through the theater program, staged, reworked and then maturing into award winning productions.

Erica Rasmussen, studio arts professor and Gordon Parks Art Gallery director, is an award winning fiber artist. As gallery director, she has raised tens of thousands of dollars and made the gallery a fixture in the arts community of the Twin Cities. Mounting six or more shows a year, viewed by more than 20,000 guests, the Gordon Parks Gallery serves a multi-faceted mission: to support the arts curriculum and cultural activities of Metropolitan State, and to preserve the legacy of the 20th century multi-media artist Gordon Parks.

James Byrne, professor, is an award winning screenwriter and filmmaker. He developed, teaches in and coordinates the only screenwriting program in Minnesota. He has also served as a mentor to numerous Metropolitan State students, involving them in his films, helping them find funding for their projects and critiquing scripts.

David Means, associate professor, is the original arts faculty member at Metropolitan State. His arts contributions were important, but in buildings that no longer exist, including the mural on the wall of the old bookstore and the arts happenings in the old Nobles building, now the site of the library. An award winning music and intermedia artist, Means has connected campus to community for more than 25 years. The Strange Attractors festival he curates on campus brings artists from around the world to perform.

The award recipients connect Metropolitan State to the community by bringing in artists with diverse perspectives and ideas. They make ends meet by creating collaborations and sharing expenses. Their work enriches the lives of students, faculty, staff and the community, by helping us see that arts are not just for rich and well-known schools, but truly belong to everyone.