If you ask Ozarks graduate Dr. Amanda Alders what has contributed most to her success, she'll say it was mostly a string of serendipitous opportunities of which she was lucky enough to take advantage. Look closer, and you'll see that Alders has been much more than lucky. She's been determined, persistent, and fearless; and it has all paid off.
Amanda Alders, a 2005 graduate of Ozarks, recently completed her Ph.D. in art therapy from Florida State University.
Alders, who was back on the Ozarks campus recently for an art showing in the Stephens Art Gallery, graduated from U of O in 2005 with a major in art and a minor in psychology. After leaving Ozarks, Alders moved to Mexico, became fluent in Spanish and created a body of paintings in preparation for a show at the Cultural Arts Center of Cuernavaca. Fluent in Spanish and English, she studied art therapy in Mexico City in the certificate program, CITA.
Upon moving back to the states, she traveled to New York armed with very little other than a collection of her artwork and a determination to further her education.
"I got accepted to a master’s program in New York at Nazareth College in Rochester," she said. "I really wasn’t sure how it was going to go. I picked Nazareth, because they had promised that I could do my internships with Spanish speakers, but I also wanted an atmosphere similar to what I had had at Ozarks. I had such a positive experience at Ozarks that I wanted to choose a small, private school in a small town for my master’s degree as well."
While the program seemed perfect, Alders soon realized she had no way of paying for the master’s degree. In one of those serendipitous circumstances she often refers to, a single collector purchased her entire collection of artwork just before her first semester at Nazareth.
"After initially being told that he wasn’t buying anymore work, I insisted that I meet with Louis Perticone, owner of ARTISANworks, anyway. Apparently, he liked my art. After my presentation, we basically began negotiating a price for my paintings and sculptures. He bought all of them…every single one," Alders said. "About half the work he bought without even seeing. We developed a deal that as long as I frequented his facility, greeting guests and showing them my work, that Louis would give me a monthly stipend to create more work."
That stipend, along with on-going portrait commissions and some last-minute scholarships, allowed her to earn her master’s degree in creative art therapy debt free.
Through her master’s research, Alders was provided with the opportunity to be a summer guest lecturer in Finland, teaching how the arts affect brain functioning. Since leaving U of O, Alders has published, presented, and taught internationally on themes related to the creative arts therapies.
"I knew I wanted to go on and get my Ph.D., so when I began thinking about my thesis, I tried to think in terms of a research study," Alders said. "My master’s internship was with Spanish-speaking older adults, so I decided to see if I could design an art therapy study on enhancing memory in elderly adults with creativity, and eventually, that’s exactly what I did."
After earning her master’s degree, Alders began searching for the perfect Ph.D. program. She knew she wanted a heavily research-focused program, so she decided on Florida State University in Tallahassee.
"Florida State had the only research-based art therapy program in the U.S., so I knew that was where I wanted to be," Alders said. "But, it was extremely difficult process. My Ph.D. committee seemed merciless at times. When I successfully passed my comprehensive exams, my program director basically told me that if I wanted to focus my research on Spanish speakers, I had to give up my stipend and tuition waiver and move to Miami."
Suddenly faced with the prospect of leaving behind everything, Alders was apprehensive but determined to make it work. She knew that all of her hard work over the years would bring her great opportunities, and it did.
Before even arriving in Miami, Alders used her numerous connections in the art therapy field to land a job with the Miami-Dade public schools as a clinical art therapist and ultimately completed her Ph.D.
"I love my job. I work with students who have emotional-behavioral issues and a lot of the time they have trouble verbally communicating. Art therapy can help them through that. I feel like I’m making a difference in their lives" she said.
Alders is quick to mention that Ozarks paved the way for her astounding success.
"I feel like Ozarks really prepared me very well. It gave me time to figure out what was and still is important to me. To just have someone be compassionate and really help you figure out what you want to do is huge. I definitely had that at Ozarks. Everyone took a vested interest in me. It was a very positive experience," she said.
Her advice for undergraduate students is to integrate yourself into a community of people who can support you in your dreams. For Alders, that meant becoming active in creative communities.
"I attribute a lot of the positive outcomes in my life to being able to network with people and being okay with taking advice from people. Even if everything they tell you is not helpful, something in their experience will prove useful," Alders said.
Alders currently lives in Miami, where she was just offered a contract to publish her first book. She and her fiancé, James, plan to be married in January 2013.