By Kevin Rouser and Tina Jenkins Bell
Kelly K. Rouser recently graduated from California College of the Arts (CCA) with a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Industrial Design. This degree was the latest in a list of successful educational and work–related pursuits, including a Bachelor of Arts degree from Princeton University and continuing education courses at the School of the Art Institute where she discovered a fascination for making product prototypes.
At 23, Rouser also acquired two U.S. Design patents. More recently, she developed a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) product she believes will break the stereotypical belief that girls and minorities can’t do math and banish young children’s fear of STEM subjects.
Rouser attributes her stance as a life–long learner and her academic and work success to the education she received at Beverly/Morgan Park schools.
Rouser’s foundational start in education began as a three-year-old student at Beverly Montessori School. There, the Montessori environment fostered self-starting skills, independence, and a curiosity for learning. Rouser fondly recalls being in the “Fireplace Room” under the excellent guidance of her teachers and building the “Pink Tower,” learning mathematical concepts in the “Base 10 Beads,” and gathering on the large rug for story time, and working collaboratively with her classmates.
After graduating from kindergarten at Beverly Montessori School in 1995, Rouser attended the Montessori program at Clissold School where teachers and their teaching assistants shaped and molded her love of learning. Clissold is one of five Chicago Public School Montessori programs and one of two on Chicago’s south side.
“I was not principal when Kelly attended Clissold, but I am very happy to hear that she epitomizes the core Montessori approach to teach students how to learn, not just what to learn,” said Clissold Principal JaMonica Marion. “I’d love to hear more stories from Clissold alumni who attended our Montessori program.
“My Montessori education during my formative years was an integral part of my current success, as I learned how to make visual-tactile connections to all of my school subjects. In each of my Montessori classrooms, from preschool through 6th grade, I learned how to play while learning, how to ask questions, how to collaborate with my fellow classmates, how to express myself through art, how to be curious about the world, and how to problem solve. I use all of these skillsets today, when I invent ideas, and when I bring them to life via 3D modeling and 3D printing,” said Rouser. She also credits her early exposure to art to her Clissold art teacher, Katherine Kampf and Ethel Wirtshafter at the Vanderpoel Art Association as well as a fortuitous encounter with a Beverly/Morgan Park resident.
While Rouser was a senior Whitney Young High School, she made a connection while teaching an art class at Smith Village where she met Thomas Miller (deceased).
“I had the opportunity to get to know Tom . . . He had an amazing and inspiring career as a visual artist and was one of the first professional African American graphic designers in this country . . . Tom’s influence and encouragement was one of the main reasons I decided to pursue a career and life-long calling as an artist, mentor and designer,” Rouser said, adding that she promised Miller she would persevere and give a career in art her “best shot.”
Rouser believes her success can be emulated if not surpassed and advises students today “to persevere.”
“Do not give up. Study what interests you, but do not be afraid to take a class in a subject that is entirely unfamiliar