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Creativity is at the core of Nil Santana’s teaching philosophy

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Nil Santana's creativity touches every aspect of his life. He even designed and prototyped the frames for his glasses in the ACU Maker Lab.
Nil Santana’s creativity touches every aspect of his life. He even designed and prototyped the frames for his glasses in the ACU Maker Lab.

Photo by Jeremy Enlow

Make. Learn. Inspire. These three words embody the teaching philosophy of art and design professor Dr. Nil Santana.

Santana’s passion is to instill creative thinking into students of all majors – from freshmen who take on a design challenge in their Cornerstone course to occupational therapy students who use the Maker Lab to adapt toys for children with special needs. He hopes students leave his classes with a lifelong curiosity and an ability to accept new challenges – skills that will take them far regardless of their career path.

Santana, who is originally from Brazil, came to ACU in 1998 as a graduate student in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication.

“The quality of the program, the size of the classes, its location, and being a Christian college, were all major factors for my decision,” Santana says.

His original plan was to stay in Abilene for two years, then earn a Ph.D. and return to Brazil to teach at a university there. But those plans changed as he neared graduation and was asked to teach graphic design in ACU’s Department of Art and Design. He has been on the faculty ever since.

“My take on creativity is a very simple and pragmatic one,” Santana says. “It can be taught; it can be learned. Shifting creativity from an ‘eureka’ moment into a methodological approach makes it accessible to anyone.”

He encourages his students to always be curious, “but it’s also important to foster a sense of risk-taking,” he says. “If I provide an environment that encourages and welcomes mistakes, then it takes the pressure off students’ shoulders and gives them the freedom to exercise creative thinking.”

A large sign in ACU’s Maker Lab has the words “Fail fast, Fail often.” Although Santana did not come up with the slogan, he truly subscribes to the idea.

“For the majority of our education we’ve been trained to get it right. But sometimes getting it ‘wrong’ might provide a better and more clever solution.”

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  1. Chris Payne says:

    I had the the pleasure of meeting Nil when he came to ACU. We shared design space and he was always resetting the bar on creativity and practicality. He is an amazing asset to ACU and an amazing mentor to all of his students. I’m so happy to see this spotlight shined on a great man with a heart for teaching.

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