Sherman Finch, an uncompromising Texas A&M visualization educator and artist known for his tough, on target critiques and for passionately compelling students to reach their potential and follow their bliss, earned a 2018 Texas A&M Center for Teaching Excellence award.
Admired by students for his “real-world” approach to education since joining the Department of Visualization in 2013, Finch, an assistant professor of visualization, received the CTE’s 2018 Aggies Celebrate Teaching! — Recognizing Transformational Learning Award, a student-nominated honor that comes with a $1,500 stipend for each of this year’s six recipients.
“No matter how frank, he always gives honest advice,” wrote Lexi Mitchell, the senior visualization major who nominated Finch for the award. “He always challenges his students to be the ‘rebel’ that thinks outside of the box.”
Mitchell said, as a freshman she was initially terrified to ask Finch for a design critique, because of his reputation as a no-nonsense professor who expects nothing less than extraordinary work. But ultimately, she found Finch’s appraisal emboldening. He pointed out the design’s weaknesses, complimented what she had done well and encouraged her to keep at it.
“I truly felt that a light had been turned on in the dark,” she said. “It was as if someone had come to push away every pessimistic thought that blocked my confidence. He inspired me to believe in myself.”
Finch’s daunting persona, he said, likely comes from his penchant for challenging students to pursue knowledge differently. Too many students are comfortable having knowledge fed to them, said Finch, who strives to inspire his undergraduates to be self-developing, more academically intuitive, and to seek out knowledge and answers.
“In the classroom, I can be very critical,” he said. “When I look at students and their work, I try to push them and see how much potential they have.”
In Finch’s vertical studio, a class combining sophomore, junior and senior visualization undergraduates who collaborate on group projects, he requires students to pitch their projects four times throughout the semester, which can be challenging and stressful.
“In the real world, you’ll rarely be able to create an idea without being able to pitch and sell it,” Finch said. “In those pitching sessions, I push back at them just as someone would out there. It forces them to be confident in what message they’re trying to convey and what they’re trying to do. I don’t want them to design with no direction or purpose.”
Mitchell said Finch challenged her “to think deeply and contemplate the work” she was creating and that she hopes to one day be an inspiring, encouraging mentor to others, just as Finch has been to her.
Finch, who earned a bachelor’s degree in art from the Rhode Island School of Design and two master’s degrees from the Maryland Institute, is also a hybrid artist, working in traditional, digital, and multi-media forms, with a special emphasis in the area of creative interaction, kinetic assemblage, sonification, and conceptual art.
His work has been exhibited, performed and screened at venues such as Art League Houston, Roswell Museum and Art Center, Amarillo Museum of Art, Artscape in Baltimore, Brooklyn, Govenor’s Island Art Fair, Alexandria Museum of Art, Art Interactive Gallery Boston, Sarai Media Lab in New Delhi, New Museum of Art Detroit, York Art Gallery UK, among other places.
He is included in the publication Future Now: 100 Contemporary Artists, produced by Aesthetica, a British art and culture magazine. Recently, Finch’s work was featured on a billboard in Los Angeles as part of the 2016 Billboard Creative Public Art Project and was an official selection of the 2017 London Experimental Film Festival. He is a founding member of the collaborative group, The AKA Collective.
Fellow College of Architecture faculty member Gary Boldt, senior lecturer of construction science, received an Aggies Celebrate Teaching Transformational Teaching Award in 2017.