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Walden Magazine // Jul 11, 2016

Beyond The Degree: Advocacy for the Arts

High school senior Scotty Romano isn’t afraid to speak his mind—and he makes sure the right people are listening. Earlier this year, Romano, a state thespian officer, visited Washington, DC, to share his passion for arts education with the legislators and senators who make change happen. Arts education, he told them, is the reason he’s been admitted to the University of Denver, where he will study business and law.

“It was through theater that Scotty was given a platform for self-expression, for standing up and taking on debate. It’s just amazing to see what art can do,” says Dr. Jay Seller ’10, a PhD in Education graduate. Seller is working with Romano and about 10 other Colorado students to encourage arts advocacy at the local and national levels.

As executive director of Think 360 Arts for Learning, Seller is showing his community the profound impact that advocacy can have. The nonprofit organization focuses on bolstering the arts and their importance in a complete education, in part by bringing professional artists in to teach workshops for grades K–12. In the 2015–2016 academic year alone, Think 360 Arts for Learning impacted more than 40,000 students with in-school programs and 4,500 teachers with professional development opportunities. Seller also works in his community as vice president for Arts for Colorado, and as a member of CAST3 (a local arts board), Colorado State Thespians, Friends of Culture, and Arts16.

Previously, Seller was a theater teacher. But as he watched public education priorities shift toward standardized testing, he knew arts programs like dance, theater, music, media, literature, and visual arts were at risk—and that he had to do something about it.

“I thought, 'I’ve got to share what I’m doing in my classroom and the importance and relevance of it,’ ” he says. “If I don’t, then my classroom is going to go away and these kids are going to miss out on this opportunity to be expressive and see the world through a new lens.” Broadening the reach of his arts education message has been the goal since Seller jumped in with both feet at Think 360 Arts for Learning 3 years ago.

Walden’s focus on social change was important to Seller during his program, but it is even more vital now.

“I believe that the arts are the wrench to make social change happen,” he says. “The arts transcend politics and connect to the soul.”

And he can’t diminish the importance of his degree in his new nonprofit career. From the ongoing support of his advisor to the powerful research skills to back up his advocacy of arts education, he says his Walden degree has been the perfect foundation for his outside-the-classroom career.

“We tell our students, 'You are a tree and those branches go far; reach and grow!’ Scotty using theater as a platform for business and law education is a great example of that,” he says. “You have to have a passion for what you do. It’s my passion that’s brought me as far as I am today.”