Ursuline News

Exceptional Years of Service: A Series

The Exceptional Years of Service wall outside of Haggerty Library features Ursuline faculty and staff members who have been employed by The Academy for over 20 years. Over the next few months, we will be featuring those on the wall in a series. This week, we are pleased to introduce Mr. Bill Thompson.

Ursuline’s Visual Arts Department welcomed Bill Thompson in August of 1997.

Before his teaching career began, Bill explored several paths. He worked full-time as a bartender while finishing his bachelors and in college, liked Art, but it was mostly a means to a degree.

“It did not seem practical,” he said. “But I could not tolerate any other concentrations.”

However, toward the end of his studies, his passion for prints was born! A Printmaking class inspired his path and he took another year to build a portfolio for grad school.

His own experiences in academic uncertainty inspire the following advice to students:

“If you are unsure what path to take, don’t lose heart,” he said. “Explore areas that exercise your talent, because, with so much to discover in this world, you never know where it will lead. Then, suddenly, there is a career you can actually see yourself doing.” 

Much of what he loves about teaching came by doing, namely the human interactions.

“I owe a lot to my teachers, especially my undergrad and graduate mentors,” he said. “Much of what I do in the classroom is modeled by them.” 

Bill’s adventure to Ursuline began in the Summer of 1997.

He had just finished two-years as a sabbatical replacement for the Chair of Printmaking at the University of North Texas and was working part-time as the Administrator at P.R.I.N.T, a collaborative print studio at UNT. Job applications didn’t seem to be panning out and then one day he received a phone call and a job offer from UA Visual Arts teacher, Leah Schlief-Freese.

“At the time, I had never met Leah or even heard of Ursuline Academy,” said Bill.

Leah was acting on the recommendations of two people Bill had studied with at the University of Dallas in graduate school- one who worked in the UA Art Department and one who had interviewed for the same job.

He accepted the position and thus began his journey at Ursuline teaching Printmaking and Photography. His qualifications were a perfect fit because he had also taught Photography for three years at El Centro College.

The Dean of the UNT School of Visual Arts at the time, a Jesuit alum, told him, “I think you will like it there.” 

And he was right. 

Celebrating 24 years at the end of this school year, Bill reflected on how learning has changed in his classroom over the years.

“Students have always learned by doing in my classroom, but the dramatic change has been in Photography,” he said. He touched on three points:

  1. In 1997, it was exclusively Darkroom Photography. Digital Photography began around 2003 and by 2007-2008, it was exclusively Digital Photography. Since then, it has been keeping up with evolving cameras and Adobe updates.  
  2. Ursuline travel has also had an impact. Namely, trips to China in 2007, Brazil in 2009, and Italy in 2018. Going to China and Brazil with students gave him the courage to create Photography in Arizona, a week-long summer photo safari with students. They tour amazing landscapes in northern Arizona and Utah.
  3. The 2017 online exhibit, 20 Years of Printmaking, provided another opportunity to look back and see trends in student work. View online.

“Compared to Photography, Printmaking has changed very little. But technology has changed my classroom, as it has in all classrooms, by helping us connect with students,” he said. 

The most impactful part of teaching? When the light bulbs go on.

“It is when all my hard work creating units, lecturing, demonstrating, and assessing, results in students asking questions and showing images that demonstrate their understanding,” he said. “It’s sometimes summed up in the smile you see after affirming their hard-earned success.”

Bill hopes that his students know, “I love and appreciate each and every one of them.”