University of Iowa Honors Theses

Thesis Title

The Courage Project: Identity, Community, and Kindness

Major Department

Interdepartmental Studies


College of Liberal Arts & Sciences


BA (Bachelor of Arts)

Session and Year of Graduation

Spring 2018

Honors Major Advisor

Andrew Tinkham

Thesis Mentor

Terry Conrad


The Courage Project uses art as a mechanism to help middle school girls feel empowered by developing their sense of identity, connection to community, and influence of kindness within their lives. Designed as an eight week empowerment workshop for up to ten 6th-9th grade girls, the Courage Project uses printmaking-based curriculum to explore identity, community, and kindness in creative ways. Working with community partner United Action for Youth and Arts Specialist Lauren Linahon, the Courage Project met for eight, hour-and-a-half long workshops at UAY’s downtown Youth Center. An introductory session was followed by two sessions focused on community, two focused on identity, two focused on kindness, and a final session and open house. I open each session by sharing a poem, excerpt from a book, or artwork that relates to the focus of that week. We have a discussion, which is paired with free writing exercises that pose questions about the topic. For example, during our two sessions that focused on community the girls answered questions such as “What places in Iowa City make our community stronger?” and “What are three important values of your ideal city?”.

Our conversation is followed by a printmaking activity designed to deepen and expand upon the focus of the week. During the segment about community we built a collaborative city using foam and book board, which the girls inked and printed using a small press from the School of Art and Art History. We discussed city and citizenship, challenging the girls to think about external communities surrounding them, as well as intrinsically about their individual contributions to each community they are a part of.

This workshop was designed with the goal of giving others access to the limitless potential that comes with the opportunity to make. It was important to me to design this project around for middle school girls, specifically due to the developmental intensity of that age group. This is often when “mean girls” emerge as a result of the difficulties of navigating adolescence. I chose to use printmaking because it is something I feel confident in teaching, and as a medium print naturally lends itself to collaboration and the creation of community. The Courage Project was designed as a space to explore who we are, how we fit into the world around us, and how to make it an increasingly positive place to live.


art, printmaking, engaged social innovation, empowerment, youth, art education

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Copyright © 2018 Emilie Sommers

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