The History Center in Tompkins County

Project-Based Learning Course ALEX 249: The History Center in Tompkins County Exhibit for the Tompkins County Bicentennial in 2017

Professor Harry Littell (Photography)
Professor Keith Millman (New Media)
Assistant Professor Christine J. Shanks (Graphic Design)

Project Coordinator & Instructor:
Cynthia Kjellander-Cantu (Design and Program Coordinator The History Center and TC3 tutor)

Project Technical Advisor:
Mark Grimm (New Media)

A new initiative in project-based learning brought exciting changes to the Art Department of Tompkins Cortland Community College in 2016. One class in particular, ALEX 249, focused on collaboration, bringing students from all of the art disciplines, Photography, New Media and Graphic Design, together to create exhibition pieces for a special exhibit for the Tompkins County Bicentennial Celebration in 2017 at The History Center in Tompkins County.

Students worked in teams of 2-4, and with the help of faculty and professional mentors, created exhibitions pieces that explored the rich history and evolution of the landscape of Tompkins County. Students began by researching their chosen topics at The History Center with the help of Director of Archives and Research Services Donna Eschenbrenner  and Design and Program Coordinator Cynthia Kjellander-Cantu. They then worked in the Photography, New Media and Graphic Design labs at the college developing their concepts and producing their final exhibition pieces.

Many of the students in the course were in their first year at the college. The student body was diverse and the teams of students were made up of students from multiple disciplines. The projects the students created stretched all of their talents and abilities, but were very well executed and researched. The highly functioning level of student collaboration throughout the course was a wonderful learning experience for the students and built their soft-skills. The successful collaboration process built inter-department relationships, added layers of dimension to the student projects, provided students opportunities to utilize their strengths, and helped students address their weaknesses.

The projects the students produced in the first semester of the course, which ran in Spring Semester of 2016, are as follows:

  • A timeline of historic photographs exploring the history of Stewart Park in Ithaca.
  • A printed map project exploring how the evolution of transportation altered the landscape of Tompkins County.
  • An interactive exhibit of Ariel maps of Ithaca, contrasting and comparing the past to the present.
  • An interactive walking tour of remarkable bridges of Tompkins County, accompanied by a printed guide on view at the exhibit.
  • A projected video installation celebrating the beauty and audio of the waterfalls that make the region famous.
  • An interactive Web and audio experience that explores the rich history, then and now, of Six Mile Creek.
  • An interactive game app for The History Center’s Kid’s Corner to encourage young children to explore the county’s history by exploring historic photographs in a mobile scavenger hunt.
  • An interactive walking tour exploring the history and evolution of downtown Ithaca.

** All walking tours were created on the PocketSights mobile platform, a local mobile app business that promotes tourism, foot traffic, education, and exploration.

Donna Eschenbrenner  and Rod Howe Executive Director from The History Center visited Tompkins Cortland Community College to critique student projects at the end of the course. Their valuable feedback helped students to understand how their projects would be interpreted and used by museum visitors. This led to some revisions before the projects were completed.

For more information and photographs of the student’s researching at The History Center click here.



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