An associate professor of art specializing in web design and interactive media, Rebecca Mushtare also serves as associate director of the college's Center of Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT). With many interests -- and a relatively new family member -- she has begun understanding how all that she undertakes is interconnected.

One of the words to describe yourself on LinkedIn is "cyborg." Why?

When I was in graduate school (at Syracuse University) for my MFA in computer art, I studied cybernetics and cyberfeminism and I did a really big creative project related to cyborgs. We’re all cyborgs, we use all kinds of assistive technologies that extend who we are and what we can accomplish and how we connect to others.

Where are you from? 

I'm from Clinton, so Central New York. I grew up in this area and I'm an (Oswego) alum (bachelor of fine arts, summa cum laude, class of 2003).

Why did you choose SUNY Oswego as an undergraduate?

I fell in love with this campus, its location, its ability to stimulate creativity and its potential for quiet. That's important to me. I consider myself to be fairly introverted, although I seem to put myself out there a lot. I actually need quiet time and space to be productive.

Why did you move on from Oswego to the computer art graduate program at Syracuse?

I didn't really want to be a graphic designer in the traditional sense. I was interested in new technology and making things, but not in clients.

Had you gone to graduate school to be a teacher of computer art?

First of all, I never envisioned myself going to graduate school. A faculty member here (Oswego) encouraged me to think about it. Syracuse University had a teaching fellow program that I went into. I learned about evidence-based teaching practices and all the sorts of things we do in CELT. I came to understand that all curriculum development and designing courses and crafting assignments is design. It's the part of design -- experience design, how to design a solution that's going to make for the best experience for the user -- that I like, even though I couldn't name it at the time and didn’t know that's why I was getting interested in it. 

When did you start teaching at SUNY Oswego? 

In 2012, I was hired to teach the web design classes in our department, and that's my primary teaching responsibility now. I also have taught special topics courses, the capstone, travel courses, digital media and our freshmen colloquium.

You've involved your classes in community projects: Vote Oswego, Recollections?

I like the community-based learning model, because it recognizes that the community partner is a co-educator in the project. Everything's mutually beneficial to the stakeholders -- the students, the community. When I first got here, I still had connections with community organizations I had worked with in New York City. I finished up my work there with the help of students here. More recently, my students worked on the CMOO (Children's Museum of Oswego) website -- that was really exciting. They did a lot of the preliminary research and design work, and then Joe Fitzsimmons (of Communications and Marketing) and I finished the site up and launched it. Really recently, we launched websites for the Oswego County Airport and the Children’s Board of Oswego in addition to Recollection: A Memory Loss Awareness Project and Vote Oswego.

What do our students learn from such projects as Vote Oswego?

Allison Rank (of political science) and I are continuing to plan for the future and doing collaborative research in this area. I worked on the first Vote Oswego project (in the 2016 presidential election), but probably a little more quietly than this (election year). In 2018, we scheduled our classes so they had overlapping time, so we could meet in one large group, which was really exciting. My students started understanding more about our election system and politics. It's not something they would have otherwise paid attention to. Allison's students learned about how design methodologies could help them achieve some of their goals. It helped them think about the part of the student population that's not like them. The students in the Vote Oswego class have already bought into the idea of voting. But most of the students they're trying to reach are not engaged. My students were like the ones Allison's students were trying to reach but weren't reaching. That part of the research was really exciting and really powerful. This big project had real stakes and real outcomes that they were able to see, which is really important.

Your students won a national award for accessibility for Vote Oswego web design.

I want to be an advocate for "designing with" (as opposed to "designing for") in trying to understand inclusion and diversity from a much bigger perspective. The key thing I try to get my students to understand is that all people are not the same as them. It's really easy to design something for yourself and to make the assumption that your experiences would be the same as theirs, but they're not. If you're really trying to reach an audience that's representative of those actually visiting the site, are all of the images of young, white, middle-class individuals, or are they reflecting what the audience really is? One in five Americans has a disability. Most of those are not visible, so we make assumptions that the audience with disabilities is much smaller than it is. In helping people with disabilities, we also help all kinds of other people, such as those in Oswego County rural areas where you can't get high-speed Internet.

How did your role as associate director of CELT develop?

When I first came to Oswego, during new faculty orientation, I went up and introduced myself to John (Kane of the economics faculty, longtime director of CELT). I had been involved in doing professional development in my previous job, related to service learning and community-based learning. I was a part of a community of practice of teachers who really cared about improving their teaching and making a positive impact in the community by working with the community. I wanted to do that here. I sat on COLT (the Committee on Learning and Teaching) my first year here. I did a few workshops for CELT during winter and spring breakouts. When (former CELT assistant director) Paul Tomascak took an associate dean's position, John encouraged me to apply.

What do you like about professional development work?

I love to keep learning and growing as a teacher. It's an iterative process. I'm going to revise and revise. It’s like working in the digital environment -- your work is never really done. For me as a teacher, it keeps me engaged with all of that material, provides the structure to keep me engaged with that material. Especially with the "Tea for Teaching" podcast, I get to talk with all of these really cool people! It's so fun. It stimulates my creativity in the classroom. It makes me think about our students differently. It makes me think about how I deliver content differently. It makes me think about how to teach and design experiences for students who are not just our traditional college students. Sometimes it seems disconnected (from teaching courses), but everything I do is incredibly connected.

You are also a self-described maker and stitcher.

When I was in graduate school, I discovered fiber art as a medium. Stitching, for me, is a counterbalance to coding. What I find interesting about those two media, they are both very detailed and iterative. In fiber art, I feel most creative. I also do a lot of fabric dying. It's a place where I can recharge my batteries. It's one area where I'm not super-planned. When I dye fabric, it's 100 percent experimental. There are no rules, I can really explore, and I enjoy doing that. Most recently, I've been stitching plastic bags. Once you stitch a plastic bag, you can't rip the stitches out without ripping the bag. There's a kind of danger in that. You live with your decision to make the hole, and so you make mistakes and you have to improvise with that.

Why are you interested in the experience of aging in Central New York?

What's interesting to me is not just that this population is exploding, it's the first generation of adults that's used to having their digital devices and are reliant on them and want to continue having them into their aging lives. In CNY, it's critical to figure out sustainable ways for people to age in place, to feel healthy, to feel empowered, to have access to things they're used to using. I love talking with older adults. It's fascinating to talk with people who lived in a different time and had different experiences than I did. That was one of the lovely things about the Recollection project. Two summers ago, I was a visiting artist at Loretto's Nottingham facility. I did a collaborative project with residents. I met some incredible people when I was there!

What are your off-campus interests?

I like to travel. We just went to Disney World with my daughter. That's not the usual traveling we do. Our travels have taken a slight detour with my daughter! (Laughs.) We also have gone to Mexico and to Iceland with her. I've done classes with travel, too. I took students to India. Kathleen Blake (of anthropology, specializing in forensics) and I are taking students to the Czech Republic this spring. My Q3 class is called "Made in the Czech Republic" and it's about using the design lens to understand your experience with another place. Wayfinding, for example. It starts at the airport. The signs may not be in a language you understand. What kinds of visual cues do they give people? If they do have multiple languages, how do they prioritize and visually separate them? Traditional craft and making practices in the culture are important, too, as well as advertising and propaganda. A lot of the students are also in Kathleen's Q4 class called "Dead but Not Buried," and even if you don't take both classes, you'll end up with an interdisciplinary perspective of places we visit.

What else can you tell us about your family?

My husband is an alum; we didn't meet in school, though. He's the CFO of Sonbyrne Sales, the convenience store part of Byrne Dairy. Our daughter’s name is Ada, and she is 19 months old. 

How do you achieve a sense of balance?

I put a lot on my plate, but it's only because I enjoy doing it. I have a lot of interests. Trying to find the connections and narrowing and refining -- at some point they have to come together or it's not sustainable. I think I'm finally at that point where they're coming together and I'm figuring out how they're related and I'm prioritizing. I haven't done a lot of stitching lately, because right now that's not a priority. I have other outlets, like playing with my daughter.