Behind the Mask: The Formation of Professional Identity

Mark Stephens, Ann Clements, & Jackie Bortiatynski

September 10 to September 27

Behind the Mask is a joint project of Mark Stephens, MD, Professor of Family & Community Medicine; Ann Clements, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Pedagogy in Art and Design (C-PAD) and Associate Professor of Music Education; and Jackie Bortiatynski, Ph.D., Associate Teaching Professor and Director, Center for Excellence in Science Education. Dr. Stephens originated a series of mask-making workshops after observing that many medical students were at risk of depression, struggles with selfesteem, and burnout during the course of their studies—challenges also commonly seen in students in other fields. 

Stephens developed the mask-making work to help students and others engage in self-reflection and better define their personal and professional identities. His workshops have been offered in a variety of settings, including Penn State’s new faculty orientations in the College of Arts and Architecture and Eberly College of Science, and with veterans seeking treatment at Walter Reed Medical Center. Workshop participants are asked to create illustrations of their senses of self on a papier machè mask. Some also choose to write descriptions of what their masks represent. The purpose of the exercise is to spark reflection and the asking of the critical questions—who am I? who do I wish to be?—that aid in the creation of a healthy professional identity. 

The masks on display were created by medical students from the Uniformed Services University and Penn State College of Medicine, as well as faculty members from the Eberly College of Science, College of Arts and Architecture, and the College of Medicine. Visitors to the Borland Project Space are invited to view and read about the work on display, and reflect on their own personal identities.