After a shift from engineering to art and art history, August Barringer has thrived in the classroom and the metal shop, finding a close-knit community of fellow artists on the way.
After a shift from engineering to art and art history, August Barringer has thrived in the classroom and the metal shop, finding a close-knit community of fellow artists on the way. As a tour guide, Special Collections student worker and O-Team member, August is building up an impressive amount of Oxy knowledge. Now as she spends the summer conducting independent research in L.A., August can add another Oxy staple to her list of experiences: the Undergraduate Research Center's Summer Research Program.
Engineering an artistic path
I initially wanted to study engineering, and I liked that Oxy was a liberal arts school, because I figured it would be okay if I changed my mind, and I did. I was taking physics and math courses my first year and doing all right at it, but I was not really enjoying it. I really wanted to take other courses, and I realized that physics was not what I want do with my life. I took a semester off in the fall of my sophomore year and took some night courses in design, product design and drawing back in New York. After coming back to Oxy and enrolling in studio art and art history classes, I very much just wanted to do art.
Photo credit: Marc Campos
Diving into summer research
This is my first time doing a URC [Undergraduate Research Center] summer research project. I never thought I would be doing URC for no other reason than I just couldn't imagine what the project would be. I asked Professor [Mary Beth] Heffernan—who's my advisor and head of the art department and the sculpture professor—if there were any grant opportunities to make art over the summer. I was expecting her to just give some suggestions, but she told me all about the Mellon Grant and we went into her office to look it up and we talked all about it. She offered to be my advisor, and I've worked with her many times before so it was a no-brainer. It was very nice of her to do, and very helpful for me. I only found out about it a week before the application was due so I had a hectic week of applying and writing essays for it, but I finished in time and got it! The grant is for research involving art in Los Angeles. My project involves interviewing trans women around Los Angeles and archiving them for the largest LGBTQ archive at USC. I'm going to create metal sculptures based on the interviews, to express the common experiences and hardships felt by local trans women.
Photo credit: Marc Campos
Sculpting a home
When I became an art major, all of a sudden there were people all around me doing really really cool projects and just being around to come and appreciate your work. There's a feeling of having kindred spirits among other art majors. This is really about doing what you love to do and finding ways to express yourself. I had done drawing and painting before, but I was not very good at it, and I considered myself not a very artistic person, but when I took my first sculpture class, the way that Professor Heffernan and the shop tech at the time instructed us..."Okay, the prompt is to make a sculpture out of wood, and this is how you use all the tools in the wood shop. Go ahead." It was kind of freeing. This year, the shop tech, Chris, taught me how to weld, and it has opened a lot of doors. I feel at home with that.
Welcome to Oxy
This summer, I'm also excited to be a member of O-Core [the student staff team that coordinates new student orientation]. I was on O-Team my junior year and I was flabbergasted—I did not realize how amazing it would be. It's up there with my top life experiences. It's a lot of yelling at 7:00 a.m. and just genuine excitement after five days of nonstop trainings and reviewing different support systems at Oxy to make sure we're as prepared as possible to meet new students. After being on O-Team, being a tour guide and working with Special Collections, I know so much more about this school than I ever thought I would and I love welcoming people to Oxy, so it's kind of perfect. I really love getting to work directly with the new students, and being able to help them feel at home at Oxy, because I remember it being terrifying. Particularly for incoming trans students, visibility is important and this is a way for me to do that. It's important for students to come here and try to be their most genuine self. One thing that's definitely been a recurring theme for me at Oxy is figuring out truths about myself, whether that's my identity or whether that's what I want to do with my life. Oxy just seems like the place where you're going to figure out what you actually want to do.
Interested in studying art and art history? Learn more about the major and see what Oxy Arts is programming this month. Take a tour of campus with August or one of several student tour guides by scheduling a visit today.