It’s an atypical class. A freshman, still flaunting her high school pride clad in a 2010 senior hoody, sits at the desk to my right. A graduate student in the College of engineering sits to my left. A girl in the School of Art and design is also in the field of view, as well as a shirt and tie-clad business school student, griping about the ride to North Campus. We’ve become somewhat of a small family over the course of not even two months.

In my last column, (Encourage crazy ideas, (2/11/2011) I discussed the importance of non-linear thought, thinking outside of the box and I highlighted an upcoming forum called TEDxUofM that will showcase some of the University’s leaders in this regard. I now realize that I may have left some readers with one deeply burning question: How do I develop my own “crazy” idea?

An often essential component of craziness is creativity. What happens when you unite creativity, multiple disciplines, enthusiasm and spirituality? If you guessed “magic,” you’re completely correct. Congratulations. Welcome to Creative Process.

Officially titled UARTS 250, the class unites a diverse group of students from various stages in their academic careers and offers the perfect medium for collaboration. Students spend two weeks each in a unit on art, dance, architecture and engineering. This provides them the chance to forge relations with faculty who they would likely never interact with outside the confines of a focused course load.

One of the University’s most intriguing courses, Creative Process seeks to overturn the commonly held belief that creativity is a natural essence, an x-factor-like attribute passed down genetically that benefits only the winners of the “ovarian lottery,” as investor Warren Buffet calls it. The course aims to demystify our notion of creativity.

We’re provided random and quirky prompts such as “butter,” or “things fall apart”, atypical materials and unexpected tasks. The course forces participants to step outside of their coveted comfort zone.

It’s a pioneering course with a noble goal: To serve as a beacon to “inform or inspire similar courses at other Michigan institutions,” as the course description states. But as students, we also gain inspiration from one another. I’ve been in awe at each and every project display day we’ve had thus far, and was especially amazed by a classmate who interpreted her “weightlessness” prompt as a command to set her final project ablaze — which she did.

Whereas most courses seek to instill convergent thought, Creative Process embraces the divergent. There is no “one right answer” and no “one way to get there,” other than commitment, of course. This stipulation is where the latter half of the namesake, the process — which invites ingenuity and persistence — comes into play.

And with an optional meditation component, the class encourages life skills far beyond the confines of classroom walls. A weekly colloquium on spirituality is one of the most attractive and unexpected aspects of the course. It embraces a “New Age” thought process, which has gained credence in the mainstream with the likes of gurus Deepak Chopra and, to a lesser extent, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. Inspired by the likes of philosopher and mystic Meister Eckhart, students explore the four paths to creativity in a hands-off manner by embracing mindfulness.

A refreshing air of calmness and tranquility fills the interspaces of the seminar during this portion of class — two emotions that we typically don’t associate with any type of lecture during our college years. I, for one, never dreamed of a class with an emphasized spirituality component.

In the end, it may not be as much about unearthing one’s creative capacities as it is about cultivating and reigniting them. As Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is to remain an artist once they grow up.” If you’re a student looking for an enthralling and inspiring course next winter, remember to seek out Creative Process.

Julian Toles can be reached at

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