Famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright said, “An idea is salvation by imagination.” If that’s true, Texas A&M University Professor of Architecture Rodney Hill is rescuing the minds of his students with innovative teaching methods that are designed to stimulate creativity. Ideas are such a valued commodity in Hill’s classes that students are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement before attending lectures.
If the waiting list for Hill’s “Environmental Design 101 C: The Design Process” class is any indication, students are happy to sign the waiver in exchange for a class with no textbooks or tests. “I tell my students to take the money they would have invested in a textbook, take that $100 and put it into a business, something from which they can reap profits,” says Hill.
And many students have done just that, patenting product ideas and launching businesses based on class projects. Patented student innovations have included everything from iPhone accessories to motion-sensor cat food bowls. One student started a business repairing iPhones, CS iPhone Repair, while enrolled in Hill’s class.
Hill, whose freshman class is open to all majors, is known for his unusual neckties and is popular among students for his anything-goes classroom philosophy. His unconventional methods include relaxation and visualization exercises, designed to put students into a creative mindset.
“Most scientists were in their early 20s when they came up with major innovations,” Hill notes. “Essentially, the 101 course is for students to discover themselves, which is what education should be about. Public schools don’t teach creativity, they teach you how to memorize information and regurgitate it on a test, not how to creatively develop ideas.”
Hill’s students participate in innovation challenges, such as the Ideas Challenge, sponsored by the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship at Texas A&M’s Mays Business School, as well as a variety of other national and international contests.
Hill says he chose to teach at Texas A&M because it was the only school that would allow him to step outside a rigid outline of topics and set his own curriculum. He says the university was eager to begin new programs that would drive students to the front of their field and evolve their departments into the future.
It’s this forward-thinking that Hill drives into the minds of his students, making them aware of how future trends and theory will affect their career choices. “By 2020, roughly half of the new jobs that will enter the world have yet to be invented,” Hill muses. “By 2030, professions will be dramatically altered due to technology and innovation. I want my students to realize this.”
Hill takes this real-world approach into his lectures, even going so far as to have students participate in a business dinner simulation as part of his Architecture 458 class, “Global Ethics, Culture & Practice,” which explores the cultural aspects of business and how they differ among countries. During the two-and-a-half-hour lesson, Hill instructs students on the proper way to conduct themselves during a business dinner. “I’ve had a couple of students come back to me and say how much that helped because many of their job interviews were over lunch or dinner,” Hill recalls. “It helped calm their nerves to know they learned the necessary tools in my class.”
Accolades have poured in for Hill, including being named “creativity champion” in 2006 by the American Creativity Association. He holds the Eppright University Professorship in Undergraduate Teaching Excellence and the Harold L. Adams Interdisciplinary Professorship in Architecture. In 2011, he was selected as one of the top eight professors in the State of Texas to receive the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation Teaching Excellence Award. Campus recognitions include the Presidential Professor for Teaching Excellence Award at Texas A&M, an honor that Hill received based on nominations from students, faculty and deans. Hill has also been selected by the students as a Transfer Camp namesake and twice as a Fish Camp namesake.
Hill’s own creative vision can be seen on the campus of Texas A&M and beyond, in wood carvings and sculptures. A mural depicting the history of Texas A&M, created by Hill and his wife, Susan, is displayed in the Memorial Student Center (MSC). The six, 8-by-3-foot walnut panels were unveiled in 1976. And his 13-foot-high sculpture, cast in bronze and carved from walnut, stands in front of the engineering building at Texas A&M’s Qatar campus and depicts the scientific advances of the Arab world. Other sculptures related to the university include the Texas A&M and Qatar University maces, The Twelfth Man Foundation Shield, Silver Taps and Muster bronze sculptures, the walnut Muster Ceremonial Table, the Ceremonial Key for the Bush Presidential Library, carved pecan sculptures in the Corps Center, and the Sterling Evans Library Obelisk for Learning.
When it comes to the creative aspirations of his students, Hill’s expectations are high and as a result, he says the students usually meet and surpass those expectations. Their final grades depend on innovation and how well they develop their ideas into a viable business.
“Everybody has some creative abilities,” Hill says. “We’re just exposing the genius that previous education has blocked. The goal is to help the students to discover their potential and become comfortable and competent in dealing with accelerating change.”
Media Contact: Lesley Henton, News & Information Services at Texas A&M University;
(979) 845-5591; email@example.com