Coming out of Orion High School in 2008, Jessica Bingham wasn’t good at mathematics. But she did know enough about geometry to recognize a 180-degree turn when she saw one.
Bingham, who recently completed a post-baccalaureate fellowship at Monmouth College, chose art as her undergraduate major because “I didn’t feel I was good at anything else. I could relate to it best. I wasn’t good at math or science.”
As she made her way through four years of college, she was getting by academically, but it was a study-abroad experience during the fall of her senior year that took her to another level.
“I studied abroad in Italy and, after that, I saw a 180-degree turn in my work and myself,” she said.
As a sophomore, Bingham had told a friend that she might like to be a college professor, and she was surprised by her friend’s reply.
“She said, ‘You know you’ll have to go to grad school for that.’ I hadn’t realized that at the time, but I started to understand that I’d have to be a lot more serious in school if I wanted to do that.”
Interacting daily with Monmouth’s art faculty played a major role in creating that vision.
“I really enjoyed talking to my professors – I admired them,” Bingham said. “They get really involved with the students, so I got to know them and watch how they treated students and shared what they know. I thought, ‘That’s a lifestyle I’d like to have.’”
One of those faculty members, Brian Baugh, helped steer Bingham down the post-bac path.
“I knew (2011 graduate) Nick Munson, who had a post-bac in theatre, and he told me about it,” she said. “That gave me an extra little boost, but it was Brian Baugh who really pushed me into it and gave me the information I needed.”
When it came time to actually begin the fellowship following her 2012 graduation, Baugh was out of the country, so Bingham worked with two other members of the art department, Tyler Hennings and Stacy Lotz. She did mainly independent study work, starting one of her main series of art, “Marks,” which had a piece win Best of Show in that fall’s student art exhibit.
“That helped me get into grad school, I believe,” said Bingham, who is currently enrolled in a master’s program at Bradley University. She will complete that degree in 1-1/2 years and then take an additional 18 months to finish her M.F.A. “Having the extra time to work on my art really helped, and I also received good guidance on the steps I needed to take to make my grad school application stand out.”
Bingham also credited Monmouth’s art community for her development, citing her time working at the Buchanan Center for the Arts under director Susan Twomey’s guidance. She also worked at Market Alley Wines during her post-bac and displayed some of her work there.
“The post-baccalaureate fellowship was one of the best experiences of my college career,” she said. “I was able to focus completely on something I wanted to accomplish in my life. The ability to put 100 percent commitment into my academics was phenomenal. I felt the professors looked at me differently. They knew I was coming back for a purpose.”
Bingham was so pleased with her experience, in fact, that she volunteered to be interviewed, and she has a message for students to consider as they near the completion of their undergraduate degrees.
“It’s not just something to do if you need more time,” she said. “But if you have a goal in academics, the post-baccalaureate fellowship will help you reach that goal.”
Bingham is even closer to that goal, which remains the same as when she was a college sophomore. Thanks to her study-abroad semester and the post-bac, she got turned in the right direction and set off on a path with solid footing.
“I’d like to be a college professor at a liberal arts college,” said Bingham, while sitting at a small table in Peoria’s Leaves n Beans cafe, where some of her paintings are on display. “I don’t know where, exactly, but schools the size of Monmouth or Bradley are appealing to me. I’d like to teach painting, or whatever they’ll let me teach.”