By Amy Matzke-Fawcett

Natalia Pilato, assistant professor in the College of Arts and Letters' Department of Art at Old Dominion University, has been selected by the Virginia Art Education Association to represent the state as the Higher Educator of the Year for 2020. She was nominated for this award by the Tidewater Art Education Association and accepted it at the organization's annual conference on Nov. 14.

Pilato says was excited and surprised to win the award, due to the number of creative and talented art teachers across Virginia.

"We are very proud that Dr. Pilato has been selected from art education professors all over the commonwealth, and especially since she will go on to represent ODU and Virginia nationally," said Peter Eudenbach, professor and Art Department chair.

This semester, she's teaching nearly 40 art teachers-to-be and adapting an art program she developed for children, Saturday Morning Art Classes or SMAC, to adhere to COVID-19 safety regulations. The classes rotate between the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Virginia Beach and the Hermitage Museum in Norfolk and are run primarily by ODU students under Pilato's direction.

As part of the switch to remote classes, Pilato also reorganized a senior capstone class into an online colloquium. In previous years, the students spent Saturday mornings in museums, but this semester Pilato put out a call to the Virginia Art Association listservs for art teachers to speak remotely to the teachers-in-training in her class.

Three working teachers speak to the students during each Saturday morning colloquium about how they are incorporating concepts into classrooms, research and other projects. Students then develop at least two questions for each visiting teacher and write a response to each presentation. It has been surprisingly "emotional and heartwarming," to read each response, Pilato said.

"There have been so many 'wow moments' and discussion of how what they learned will help them as future teachers," Pilato said. "The discussion board was better than I could have gotten from a class. They are reflecting, and it is a personal, amazing document of all the students saying what they learned."

Connecting her student teachers with students in K-12 schools and working classroom teachers is part of Pilato's philosophy.

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