bloom initiative inspires creative growth

Where is creativity in our everday lives? This question inspired bloom, a student-led initiative to cultivate creativity and interdisciplinary collaboration. One voice in a broader St. Olaf conversation about teaching creativity, bloom aims to increase awareness of the innovation already present on campus, while promoting the practice of creativity in every aspect of life at St. Olaf.

Last fall, bloom held “Build,” an event inviting students to stop and play with cardboard boxes in front of Buntrock. The group also put up community feedback displays in order to gather information about how the St. Olaf community views originality. Moving forward this year, bloom will collaborate with other organizations on campus, including honor houses, music groups and the Piper Center to, in the words of founder Kirsten Schowalter ’15, “unveil creativity in the fibers of St. Olaf.”

In addition to increasing awareness of the abundant innovation already present on campus, bloom plans bring in speakers to discuss topics like design thinking, a methodology for creative and interdisciplinary problem solving.

The group hopes to challenge the perception that imagination is limited to certain disciplines like the fine arts, music, dance and writing. According to bloom member Jay Carlson ’15, bloom works “to expand the notion of creativity; creative problem solving and design thinking aren’t just buzzwords, they are processes that occur in every academic discipline and real-world situation.”

Creativity doesn’t always mean wielding a paintbrush or musical instrument, nor is it a magical power or a talent someone receives at birth. It is a skill that can be cultivated and harnessed, and everyone is creative.

Schowalter describes creativity in three parts: Little C, Middle C, and Big C. “Little C” creativity is expressed through basic decisions like “how we organize our days or how we decide what to write a paper on.”

Next, “Middle C” inventiveness involves considering the possibilities of an interdisciplinary approach while problem-solving in a workplace or academic setting. “Middle C” creativity might consist of considering a challenge from multiple perspectives. For example, how would an economist look at a certain situation, as opposed to a historian or a biologist?

Finally, “Big C” ingenuity refers to huge breakthroughs with a large-scale impact on many people’s lives. All three kinds of creativity are found at St. Olaf.

Schowalter and Carlson both describe how bloom has led them to incorporate originality into their daily lives more intentionally.

“Before, I recognized creativity as an important skill, but now I am constantly aware of all the opportunities to exercise my creativity in every part of my life. Creativity has always been part of me, but now I intentionally choose the paths throughout my day that foster as many fresh ideas as I can. I see creativity everywhere now,” Schowalter said.

Carlson also emphasizes the importance of reaching out to students who remain unconvinced of their own potential as innovative people with the capability to approach a challenge from multiple perspectives.

“The purpose of bloom is to show the Olaf population that each of us creates, and that we can and should take things we learn in one sphere of life and apply it to another,” Carlson said.

Although a core group of students and faculty meet regularly to plan events, bloom’s webpage declares that “everyone is part of [bloom] by being creative human beings!”

“We are not about membership, we are not about monthly meetings,” Schowalter said. “We practice creativity. So, jump in when we are playing with Legos in the quad, or decide to be part of the design thinking cycle, or attend events of speakers to learn more about creativity beyond the Hill. Show up and be open to the practice. We are not adding to your already busy lives. [We are] about seeing what we already are: creative, smart, interdisciplinary people, and incorporating that into everything we do.”

Check out the bloom Web site for more information at and follow the bloom Facebook page, “A New Way of Doing: bloom,” to stay updated on events and creative happenings.