Mason Professor Renee Sandell Named National Art Educator of the Year

Posted: March 12, 2013 at 5:39 pm, Last Updated: March 18, 2013 at 2:33 pm

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By Catherine Probst

Renee Sandell. Creative Services photo

Renee Sandell. Creative Services photo

Growing up in New York City, Renee Sandell was exposed to all types of art from a young age — masterpieces by Rembrandt von Rijn and Rosa Bonheur to Robert Rauschenberg and Red Grooms. As an adult, she has devoted her career to helping people experience art and appreciate its significance.

It is no surprise that Sandell, professor in Mason’s School of Art, was chosen to receive the 2013 National Art Educator of the Year Award. The award, given by the National Art Education Association (NAEA), recognizes the exemplary contributions, service and achievements of one dedicated art educator. Sandell received the award at the NAEA National Convention in Fort Worth, Texas, on March 7.

“It is deeply gratifying to achieve this ultimate recognition of my four decades in the field of art education, as well as my service and leadership roles in NAEA,” says Sandell. “I readily share this honor with my collaborative colleagues and students who have inspired me and allowed me to inspire them.”

Sandell’s career began at The Ohio State University where she earned an MA and PhD in art education while researching gender issues in art and art education. Then she served as a fellow at the National Endowment for the Arts and taught as an adjunct professor at several area universities, including Mason.

In 2004, after 14 years teaching art education at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Sandell was recruited to Mason by the College of Visual and Performing Arts and the College of Education and Human Development. Her mission was to work closely with faculty and administrators at Mason and Fairfax County Public Schools to create a new art education program to satisfy a critical need for quality art teachers.

The result was the Masters of Art in Teaching (MAT) in Art Education Program. The program provides future art educators with the artistic, research and teaching skills to help all students gain a greater understanding of art education. In one of the MAT program’s most popular courses, Teaching Critical Response to Art, Pre-K to 12, students have the opportunity to work with museum educators in a partnership with museums in the Washington, D.C., area.

“Art education has been largely misunderstood in terms of its value as a vital investment in human potential and growth — art education actually promotes creative and critical thinking skills in the next generation,” says Sandell. “As such, art education develops visual literacy and thus plays a critical role in all current educational initiatives, including science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and transforms STEM into higher performing STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math).

National Art Education Association (NAEA) National Convention

NAEA President Dr. Bob Sabol presents Sandell with the award for the 2013 National Art Educator. Photo by 2013 Seth Freeman Photography.

According to Sandell, art education is ever changing, given the prevailing role of technology in the visual world. “Art and design are omnipresent and can be accessed from anywhere. The digital world has become our classroom!”

When Sandell reflects on her time working in this field, she remembers the deeply meaningful collaboration in research and teaching with her colleagues. But her greatest reward, she says, has been mentoring students and witnessing their transformation into accomplished artists and teachers who have the potential to make a great impact on thousands of future citizens.

“At the end of each day, the invaluable reward for an art educator comes from the creation of hundreds of uniquely expressive artworks inspired by quality instruction, as well as the enhancement of creative and critical thinking skills vital to all aspects of students’ education,” says Sandell. “This tangible evidence of students’ growth and development is accompanied by their ability to make informed judgments leading to sensitivity, understanding and appreciation by future citizens in our visual age.”



Write to Colleen Kearney Rich at

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