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Fostering a Creative Community with Jessica Ngo

Jeesica Ngo
2017 Excellence in Teaching Award Winner

Creative writer, author, and 2017 Teaching Excellence Award winner Jessica Ngo has been described by students as encouraging, incredibly hardworking, and an expert at giving feedback.

Since joining the Otis College community in 2009, Ngo has helped countless students in the Liberal Arts and Sciences department, one of Otis College's core programs that develops students' skills of articulate expression and critical evaluation. 

Each year, the Teaching Excellence Awards gives students, faculty, department chairs, and other Otis community members the chance to recognize three outstanding faculty members for their commitment to Otis, their clear, effective teaching, and their ability to respond to a diverse student body. Ngo is joined this year by fellow Excellence in Teaching awardee Joanne Mitchell of the Foundation program and Distinguished Educator Award­-winner J.T. Steiny of Communication Arts. All three recipients receive cash awards, are introduced at the Commencement ceremony on May 14, 2017, and are honored at the Faculty Convocation event in August. 

Ngo tells us what her students have taught her, why so many creatives call Los Angeles home, and more. Read the Q&A below.


What’s it like to teach emerging artists and designers? Do you find it refreshing, a challenge, both?

I have taught at many different types of institutions, from trade schools, to universities, to community colleges. But Otis is its own, very unique environment. As my background is in creative writing, I absolutely love being immersed in such a small, creative environment where both my students and my colleagues are also artists. In fact, I don't think I realized how much I needed to be among other creative people until I started teaching here, and now I cannot imagine being anywhere else. Teaching emerging artists and designers definitely inspires my creative work.


What have your students taught you?

I am constantly learning from my students. One thing in particular that I feel I have learned from them is to be more spontaneous and willing to go with the flow. This is something that does not come naturally to me, but I think it can at times be a refreshing and rewarding approach to life and learning.


If you could study any field aside from your own, what would it be?

I would actually love to study illustration / book arts. I teach the creative writing minors in my Capstone class, and many of them are illustration majors. As a creative writer myself, I am quite envious and in awe that they are able to illustrate their creative manuscripts. This is a skill I wish I had. This desire has been further fueled by the inspiring artists’ books collection in the Otis library.


Can you describe your personal art or design practice? What influences your work and how does teaching influence it?

I am a creative writer. Though I occasionally write poetry and fiction, my specialty is creative nonfiction. I mainly write in the subgenres of flash nonfiction, memoir, and slice of life pieces. There are many topics I tend to write about, but primarily my work centers on being an identical twin, being biracial, being in an intercultural relationship, and most recently, being a parent. My work is heavily influenced by my day-to-day interactions with people, so teaching is a huge inspiration for me. Also, teaching writing and literature courses constantly motivates me to get back to my own writing.


What is something you wish you would have known when you were first starting out in a creative field?

I think every writer will tell you that once you are out of school, it is vital to have a writing partner, writer’s group, or to continue taking writing courses. Once you no longer have school-imposed deadlines for submitting manuscripts, if there is no one else to hold you accountable for your work, it can be difficult to motivate oneself to keep writing. Luckily, I have a twin sister who is a professional playwright, so I have a constant set of eyes to review my writing projects.


What are three adjectives you would use to describe Otis College or its community?

Inspiring. Innovative. Demanding.


At Otis, we have the benefit of being a part of the larger Los Angeles art and design community. What do you think attracts artists and creatives to live and work here?

I’m originally from the small Central California agricultural town of Bakersfield, so it is very easy for me to answer this question. Coming from a city where artists and creatives are few and far between, I can confidently say that the ability to surround oneself with other like-minded people is the number one reason that other artists and creatives are attracted to Los Angeles. You cannot help but be inspired to create art when you see it all around you and everyone else around you is making beautiful art.


What is your favorite spot in L.A.?

I am going to cheat and tell you two places because it really is a tie for me. The first place is the Los Angeles Central Library in Downtown LA. Books are so very important to me as both a writer and an educator. Every time I go to a new city, I go in search of its local library. I love the smell of used books. And this particular library is so large and full of beautiful artwork and a recently renovated and LA-themed gift/bookshop as well. My other favorite spot is The Last Bookstore, which is also in Downtown LA. The title alone is brilliant, but this bookstore is so unique because it has a tunnel made out of books upstairs and is full of both new and used books that I could spend all day looking through.