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Defining Moments project an interdisciplinary time capsule of 2020

Defining Moments project an interdisciplinary time capsule of 2020

JUNE 24, 2021 — The year 2020 is considered by many to be the beginning of a new historical age. To showcase and preserve the unique lived experiences of UTSA students during this unrivaled time, faculty, staff and students collaborated on a groundbreaking interdisciplinary project called Defining Moments.

By empowering students to become their own authors and voice their individual experiences with COVID-19, as well as with personal and social issues, the project strengthens the UTSA community by amplifying its many voices.

Defining Moments showcases the creative and collaborative prowess of the Roadrunner community. Over the last academic year, more than 500 students across six disciplines were invited to participate in the project by reflecting on the events of 2020 and its impact on their lives.


“I’m honored to have had this opportunity to create something that is both a documented piece of history and a beautiful work of art.”



UTSA dance students transformed the reflections, poems, music and art compositions of the Defining Moments project into movement.



The purpose of the project was threefold:

  • To help students grapple with changes and movements affecting their lives while capturing the moment and preserving it for the future.
  • To provide students with experiential learning that encourages deep thinking in a virtual environment.
  • To promote unity and support amongst UTSA students and faculty during a time of social distancing.

Students worked with faculty in the disciplines of history, English, art, music, dance and architecture to turn their reflections into creative and expressive works. Along the way, staff from Academic Innovation and the UTSA Libraries supported the project by helping students and faculty find ways to effectively collaborate in a primarily virtual environment and to document and share the work.

“I am so impressed with the faculty who are willing to try new modalities while continuing to focus on the quality of teaching and the learning experience for students,” said Melissa Vito, vice provost of academic innovation at UTSA. “My hope is that this project [with different areas of focus] becomes an educational point of distinction for our Roadrunners and an ongoing part of the undergraduate experience.”

The project came about as a recommendation of the Undergraduate and Masters Education Recovery Tactical Team (UME), one of several tactical teams created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and charged with developing proposals to adapt to the blended and modified educational and campus life modalities. One of the UME’s priorities was to develop opportunities for experiential learning that would distinguish UTSA. Claudia Arcolin, director of digital learning; Jodi Peterson, assistant professor of instruction in the Department of History; and Jourdan Laine Howell, senior lecturer in the Department of Music, spearheaded the initiative that ultimately became the Defining Moments project.

“When we as faculty network and collaborate, we model it for our students and lay a fertile foundation for them to then collaborate and thrive,” Peterson said. “All of this was done using the backdrop of the pandemic, which shifted from being the problem to the inspiration.”

In a cascading fashion, the project began with students in Peterson’s history classes: her students created journal entries documenting and reflecting on the historical significance of the moment. Students in associate professor David Vance’s English classes then took the journal entries and transformed them into poems and short written pieces.

Music composition majors worked under the direction of faculty members Howell and Ethan Wickman to use the literary works as inspiration to create original compositions, while the same texts fueled artistic products produced by art majors under the direction of faculty members Mark McCoin and Humberto Saenz.

Dance students from Megan Rulewicz’s classes transformed the reflections, poems, music and art compositions into movement. Architecture students in John Bagarozy’s classes created a space for students to virtually exhibit their creations, with plans for a physical exhibition space in the future.

Music composition student Hannah Bradley composed her longest and first entirely electronic piece to accompany the poem “The Disturbance” written by students Daniella Flores and Ezra Garza. Though challenging, the experience not only provided her with new skills to apply to future compositions but also gave her a sense of hope and community during an uncertain time.

“I’m honored to have had this opportunity to create something that is both a documented piece of history and a beautiful work of art,” Bradley said. “Despite all the chaos going on in the world at the time, the students of UTSA were able to come together and continue creating art.”

Professionals from Academic Innovation and the library designed the learning experience and identified best practices considering Universal Design for Learning, digital fluency, FERPA and copyright. Ernest Hernandez, director of video production, recorded videos of the projects to showcase and preserve each students’ defining moment.

Scholarly communication librarian Emily Johnson, who provided support the project, was excited to help document the experiences of UTSA students and to preserve those experiences for the future.

“This project has benefited the UTSA community by giving students a way to collaborate during a time of social distancing and to also express how the pandemic and other world events were impacting their lives,” Johnson said.

The students’ artifacts have been archived in the university’s Runner Research Press and will be transformed into open educational resources accessible to the entire community.

Kelly Holguin



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of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

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