‘A photographer’s playground’: Grant helps Clay Middle School teacher travel to Iceland to capture landscape’s beauty


By Sammy Bredar

Clay Middle School teacher Brian McGuckin is already seeing the benefits of his July visit to Iceland in his classroom.

The Lilly Teacher Creativity Fellowship Program, part of the Lilly Endowment, funded the three-week trip, during which McGuckin lived out of a campervan and took photos of the island’s sweeping landscapes.

“From waterfalls, to geysers, to sea stacks, to fissures, to volcanoes, to sheep randomly walking down the middle of the streets all over the country, my camera and I were overwhelmed by the beauty of Iceland,” McGuckin said. “Iceland is a photographer’s playground, and I came back with so many photos and stories to go with them.”

The trip has generated discussion and interest with students in his social studies classes.

“Over the years, I’ve learned that children recall the stories I share better than they recall what they read,” McGuckin said. “My classroom walls are filled with photos from most of the 25 countries I’ve visited, all of which are part of the curriculum I teach. It excites me to share with my students, and it has instilled a desire for many of them to experience the world on their own.”

For Judith Cebula, Lilly Endowment communications director, that’s a big part of what the fellowship program is all about. The fellowship program began issuing grants to teachers in 1987.

“The Teacher Creativity Fellowship Program promotes lifelong learning for educators by enabling them to pursue their dreams and passions, explore new areas of interest, expand existing talents and develop new ones,” Cebula said. “Our hope is that these experiences will reinforce their commitment to teaching, and thereby benefit their students and schools as well.”

McGuckin, a Carmel resident, decided to apply for the program after a co-worker recommended it. He received his first grant in 2013 and used it for a photography trip to Europe.

“I photographed many of the ruins and landscapes and interviewed locals on how those things impacted their lives and ultimately their local economy,” McGuckin said.

When he travels, McGuckin prefers to immerse himself in the local culture.

“Although comfy hotels and fancy resorts sound nice, I prefer eating at authentic restaurants and getting to know what life is like for the people that live there,” he said. “These experiences, along with my camera, give me great stories and beautiful images.”

McGuckin said the fellowships were transformative for him.

“Experiencing other cultures shapes who you are and who you become. This fellowship has not just changed me, but also my students and my family,” he said. “It has rejuvenated me both times, making me excited to share about my experiences with my students and anyone willing to listen.”

McGuckin is sharing photos and videos from his Iceland trip on his website, brianmcguckin.com.

How to apply

Clay Middle School social studies teacher Brian McGuckin has twice been a recipient of a grant through the Lilly Teacher Creativity Fellowship Program. He has used the funds to travel overseas to focus on photography.

He encourages other Indiana teachers to apply for the fellowship program.

“I’m blown away by the amount of teachers that do not take advantage of this great opportunity,” he said. “Everyone has dreams, and whether it involves traveling or not, this fellowship does an amazing job of supporting Indiana teachers.”

Most full-time education professionals are eligible to apply for the fellowship program. Visit lillyendowment.org/for-grantseekers/renewal-programs/teacher-creativity to learn more about the program and its eligibility requirements.