Shelley Steffey began her academic career studying studio art at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. After graduating in 2010, Shelley relocated to Asheville, North Carolina, and began searching for somewhere to further her education. Needing a program that was flexible enough to be able to attend while working full time, in 2012 she found herself taking education courses at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College toward certification in early childhood and school age education. During that time, she learned about the Masters of Arts in Teaching Program at WCU, which included courses focused on primary and secondary ages and would lead to licensure. The program had everything she needed in a degree.
“Just as meditation is a still point of focus of the mind and breath, art, too, captures in a still image a journey inward.”
For her program, Shelley has been completing research on art as a practice in meditation, which explores the use of the creative process as a “beingness” with the inner world. She was first introduced to yoga and meditation at the age of 14, participating in a guided meditation where she experienced peace in a way she never had before. At that same time, art was becoming a major focus for her in school, where she had an art teacher who was deeply supportive and encouraging. “Just as meditation is a still point of focus of the mind and breath, art, too, captures in a still image a journey inward,” she said.
During her undergraduate program, Shelley was introduced to the psychotherapeutic technique of mandala making, which she began using in the formal paintings for her coursework. This led to a pathway for her to create mandalas in hopes that they could provide a resting place in a busy world.
"I realized that art has a true capacity to go somewhere, like meditation, that may be unknown, but a necessity to reach in order for this transformation to occur"
Recently, Shelley attended a gestalt therapy workshop. Essentially, it was a group therapy session that used art — something she had never experienced before. Participants seemed terrified by the idea of sharing their inner world through imagery; however, it was like second nature to Shelley. For her, art is the best way to express her inner world. “I realized that art has a true capacity to go somewhere, like meditation, that may be unknown, but a necessity to reach in order for this transformation to occur,” she said.
Shelley said she saw the opportunity to pursue research as a way to put together the
decade of work she has produced and the experience she has gained while she has been
experimenting through teaching yoga, art and mindfulness to children as well as other
educators. Her research focuses on bringing mindfulness to the classroom by introducing
mind and body work in fun, interactive and interesting ways in which they can be combined
Over the last 10 years, Shelley has had the opportunity to share her research in the Asheville area through presentations at the Buncombe Partnership for Children as well as in facilities with co-workers at Vance Elementary School, Rainbow Community School, the YWCA Early Learning Program and Educational Partners International. She also has shared her collection of mandalas in shows at businesses, studios and yoga centers in the Pennsylvania and Asheville areas. Overall, she has received positive responses and has embraced the idea that there needs to be more work like hers, she said.
Shelley said she hopes to continue teaching youth and adults to create art and practice meditation on a regular basis, and that she wants to extend her reach to other communities needing this kind of work through North Carolina, the United States and elsewhere in the world. And, she said she wants to deepen her own art and inward expansion by exploring art in other places and hopes to continue her studies with a master’s degree in fine art and possibly a doctorate in creative expressive therapy.