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Creating A Creative Space for Effective Communication

CCOM 1304 Class & HGOco Engage in Appreciation of the Arts


By Sheryl E. Taylor

As of late, Houston’s fall weather is coasting around the low 70s (if we’re lucky), but in Dr. Susan Osterberg’s COMM 1304 class it’s a snowy day.

The course, Introduction to Communication, offers students an overview of important skills in developing effective communication through interpersonal, small group and public communication.

A recent class project, Teamwork Reflective Assignment and Essay, students were asked to create a new ending to Ezra Jack Keats’ 1962 children’s picture book, “The Snowy Day,” using key themes—life lessons and truths about life. The Caldecott Medal-winning book is the first book featuring an African-American child, Peter, who explores his neighborhood after the season’s first snowfall.

“During an educator’s career, an instructor will encounter educational material which will extend the objectives of a particular assignment,” said Osterberg. “In this case, “The Snowy Day,” being produced by Houston Grand Opera expanded the content of the story by giving voice and content to the original book. In addition to the creative work of extending the material of “The Snowy Day,” students as part of their group, analyzed what happened as they were creating this new ending in terms of small group leadership, group process, active listening, and creative thinking.”

To inspire her students, Osterberg invited two members of Houston Grand Opera’s HGOco, which connects Houston Grand Opera’s (HGO) creative resources to communities throughout the city. The “co” stands for company, community and collaboration through innovative and engaging programming.

Chelsea Lerner and Luisana Rivas of HGOco demonstrated to Osterberg’s class how to bring words and music together to create a storybook opera.

“HGOco is an extension of the Houston Grand Opera to our local community,” said Lerner, HGOco Programs Coordinator. “It’s important that we continue to build, educate and excite our newer audiences so the opera art continues to thrive. This especially lies in the hands of higher education as they are the next generation to take this artform to the next place. Our desired outcome is to create a world of people who can appreciate the arts. A great deal of the communities we reach in Houston have never seen an opera. If we can spark at least one person to be inspired to create art or go see an opera, we've done our jobs.”

As a special treat for the class, HGOco teaching artist Rivas read the 40-page book along with songs and movements to exemplify and amplify Keats’ writing. When performing community outreach in the higher ed environment, she sees as an opportunity to encourage play with students.

“My goal is to give the students a break from their class schedule and encourage them to let loose and play. Adults can reap great benefits from engaging in activities that are not focused on achieving results,” Rivas emphasized. “This is exactly what play is ... it disconnects us from the drive to produce, brings us together as a community, keeps our minds in shape, and fosters empathy. I also want to show that opera and classical music can also have a place outside of the concert hall and that in fact, it can be a powerful community-building tool.”

The class project coincided with the 72nd world premiere of “Snowy Day” opera featured at the Houston Grand Opera Dec. 9- 19.

“In an educational setting, a goal of the professor is to infuse in the student the desire to look more deeply into educational experiences that may have been initiated in the classroom,” added Osterberg. “The joint partnership with HGOco and our students will enable them to broaden their views of communication, opera, small group processes, creativity, and the written word.”

About the University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.

U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.