What Makes A College Unique?

Class critiques

Class critiques

One of my main objectives with Art.College.Life. is to try to identify the nuances that differentiate one college art program from another. It’s not always easy. Variables such as size, location and specialty are the obvious standouts, but delving deeper and learning more about each program brings out the true distinctions.

The Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning Department (DAAP) at the University of Cincinnati (UC) has found its place. The department participates in the university’s cooperative program (Co-op) offering students a real glimpse into potential careers while they’re still students. In existence since 1906, Co-op has become a mandatory part of the design curriculum. Beginning sophomore year DAAP’s fashion design, graphic design, industrial design, and interior design students alternate between semesters spent attending classes and working full-time in a professional area of interest. Integrating the two gives students the opportunity to apply classroom lessons to real-world situations, and bring on-the-job issues and concerns back into the classroom for further analysis and discussion.

Workplace assignments take place throughout the U.S. and across the globe. The list of companies and organizations in which DAAP students have engaged is impressive, including Abercrombie and Fitch, Fisher-Price, the Smithsonian Institute, and Warner Brothers Pictures. And, the benefits are fantastic; theory and practice live side by side as students gain first-hand experience, develop broad networks, and gain confidence in their chosen fields. The added time spent away from school means students take five years to complete their degrees, including summers. If cost is a concern, consider that Co-op students earn a salary during their working semesters.

Classrooms

Classrooms

Fine Arts and Art History majors aren’t left behind. Students here don’t have a cooperative requirement; however they are highly encouraged to intern or study abroad.

So how does DAAP fit into the big University of Cincinnati picture? UC is a public, land-grant research university located on 473 acres in Cincinnati, just north of the Ohio River. Its 42,000+ students divide themselvesinto more than 300 programs across campus. DAAP provides an intimate, liberal arts education inside the larger university context. Roughly 2,000 students study 10 undergraduate majors in four aptly named schools; Design, Art, Architecture, and Planning. The Design school engages about half the department with majors in Fashion Design, Graphic Communication Design, and Industrial Design. Art is comprised of Fine Arts and Art History; Architecture includes its namesake and Interior Design. Design majors graduate with a Bachelor of Science. Fine Arts graduates receive a BFA after four years; Art History majors receive a B.A.

UC_logoAccolades for the university are numerous. “Among the top tier of the Best National Universities,” claimed U.S. News and World Report in September, 2012. And Travel & Leisure magazine listed it as “one of the world’s most beautiful campuses” in 2011. Hitting even closer to home, the 2013 Design Intelligence survey ranked DAAP’s Industrial Design best in the nation, and Interior Design second best.

The news gets better once you’re actually on campus. According to Amberly Maryo, Senior Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, 93.3% of DAAP students entering as freshmen in 2012 returned to the university in 2013. That’s the highest retention rate on campus. Clearly they’re doing something right!

As a parent of two college students myself, I understand the anxiety that accompanies the transition from college to the “real world.” Any help bridging that looming gap will be readily appreciated and welcomed with open arms.

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Good News From The Motor City

The headline everywhere is the same: Once the fourth largest city in the country, Detroit has now filed for bankruptcy. In 1950 this thriving hub of the auto industry had a population close to 2 million; now it’s truly a shadow of its former self, with just 700,000 calling it home. And worst of all, to pay for its debts the city is considering selling artwork from its beloved art museum, the Detroit Institute of Arts. Nothing like ripping your heart out.

Yet I’m here to tell you there is good news in the Motor City. Midtown and downtown are in the midst of a revival, with 90% occupancy from new start-ups and those who want to restore and refurbish this fabulous metropolis.  And in the heart of it sits the Cultural District with the Motown Museum, Detroit Public Library, Science Museum, Detroit Institute of Arts, and of course, the College for Creative Studies, (CCS) a non-profit, accredited, private art college of 1300 students.

Painting Studio (courtesy of CCS)I attended an open house information session at CCS last week, toured the campus, and felt I received an accurate impression of the college that in 2007 Bloomberg Business Week named among the top design schools in the world.

The college is split between two campuses – the Ford campus focuses primarily on fine arts and crafts, while the Taubman Center focuses on design. 12 undergraduate majors are offered, with a wealth of infrastructure to enable a strong basic understanding as well as encourage wide exploration in any discipline. CCS understands that college years are an investment in time and money. They support student and family investments with top-notch facilities and equipment. Tom Madden, Chair and Associate Professor in the Crafts Department, calls them “extraordinary.” I agree.

transportation studio close up 2Walking through the school I felt its mission statement come to life. They’re not teaching just art and design here. They’re teaching a path to a future career, with all the tools necessary to get there. Tools include a new way to communicate; by expressing and portraying ideas through art, whether a beautifully handcrafted wood sculpture or a flashy ad selling the hottest new shoe design. “Art is about language,” explained Robert Schefman, Chair and Associate Professor in the Foundation Department. “Our ideas are written down by drawing.” Those ideas are expressed through the illustration of a graphic novel, the line of a new car, or the interior design of a new restaurant. Additional tools include 42 credits of liberal arts classes, plus business lessons and a comprehensive understanding of how to show and sell your artwork in today’s digital world.

Students have the opportunity to live on or off campus throughout their four years. I climbed the steps to a fifth floor suite in the Art Centre Building on the Ford campus. (Easy to do when you’re young!) The apartment style set-up has two large bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large living room, large dining room, and a full kitchen. I liked the sunlit spaciousness of it, but felt the carpet could have used an update.

AudioEditing courtesy of CCSPre-College courses are available in numerous formats for those wanting to get a head start on their college education. And once enrolled as an undergraduate, Career Services provides an abundance of internship and networking opportunities. The sticker price for admission is $34,320, but CCS loudly claims that 98% of students receive financial aid in the form of scholarships, grants or loans. The message: don’t let sticker shock let you gloss over this school.

The day’s tour guides all wore bright green t-shirts proudly claiming, “CCS: Art lives in this city.” They’re so right. There is much more to share about this remarkable college – much more than just one post’s worth. For now, my suggestion is simple: go see it for yourself.  You’ll like what you see.

(Top and bottom photos courtesy of CCS)

Decision Time: 5 Tips To Help You Choose the Right School

SAIC Dining Hall

SAIC Dining Hall

It’s April and spring is in the air.  Finally!  Better yet all those offers are in.  If you’ve been accepted or wait-listed at more than one college then decision time is almost over.  As the expression goes, the ball is in your court.  And that’s a good thing.

So, how do you decide?  There are many factors that can – and should – influence you.  Here are a few tips I found helpful when my kids were going through the process.

1 – Try to identify what it is about each school that entices you.  Is it the location?  Cost?   Studio space?  The feel of campus, or something else?  I think all these factors fall into two basic categories: right fit and finances.  Make sure the programs available fit your wants and needs.  Re-visit each school’s website and contact the school with any unanswered questions you still have.  And DO let the financial package impact your decision.  If the weight of paying back future loans feels oppressive now, it will feel even heavier later on.

2 – Go back to “walking the walk.”  Visit campus, especially if you haven’t done so already.  I’ve said it before; there is nothing like a stroll around campus to see if it’s the right place for you.  Take the tour, check out the studios and dorms, eat in the cafeteria, and talk to students and professors.  If you can sit in on a class, great; if you can spend the night, even better.  Both will give you a better understanding of what it feels like to actually live there.  Maybe I’m repeating myself here too, but my oldest son thought Tufts was a funny name for a university.  Then he visited campus and exclaimed “wow, I love it here.”  End of story.

3 – Trust your gut.  This is easier than it sounds.  Sometimes the answer is right in front of you but there are too many distractions for you to see clearly.  If you can narrow your choices down to two or three schools then flip a coin, and mentally accept which way it lands.  Whatever the results are, you’ll feel joy, relief or perhaps a bit of anguish.  Those feelings will tell you what is the right choice for you.

4 – If you get wait-listed don’t get too discouraged.  You still have a chance to get in, even though it may be a small one.  My first recommendation is to accept an offer from one of the schools that accepted you.  Pick a place you’d honestly like to attend.  Then congratulate yourself; you’re going to college!

Believe it or not, that does remove a lot of the pressure.  If you’re still focused on a wait-listed school then let them know as soon as possible; schools like to know they are your top choice.  Try to contact the school’s admissions counselor for your region, and express your interest.  Tell him or her why their school is your top choice, and if you’re accepted, you’ll attend.  (Otherwise why are you trying?)  I’d also suggest sending additional information that can tip the scale in your favor.  Examples might be an achievement or acknowledgement you’ve received since you applied, an award won, or even a mentor’s recommendation about an atypical experience that relates to your future studies.  To take it one step further – if you can hand-deliver additional materials to a counselor you’ll have a chance to make a personal pitch for acceptance.  I always believe you’ll be better off if they can get to know you as an individual, rather than just a name on a sheet of paper.

SCAD sidewalk arts festival

SCAD sidewalk arts festival

5 – Breathe.  Don’t forget to take a moment to sit back and congratulate yourself.  You’ve worked hard to get to this point and you’re about to begin another great adventure.  You’re in the midst of a very exciting time of your life.  The future is a big unknown, with lots of exciting opportunities before you.  It’s unnerving and thrilling, all at the same time.  There are lots of new friends to meet at college, and so much art to discover!  Enjoy!

Lessons I Learned In Art School

OTIS sophomore photography color project

OTIS sophomore photography color project

High school students face countless questions when choosing a college and career.  They often seem unanswerable, but they’re not.  The right answer is out there – you just might need to dig a while to find it.

Many questions circle around the idea of how an art degree will translate into a career.  Should you attend an art school? Or how about a more comprehensive education at a liberal arts school or a state university?  If you choose one of the latter two, can you still focus on your art?  Conversely, are you creating a problem for yourself if you choose an art school and later on decide not to pursue a career as an artist?

The short answer is that you can get an excellent art education at any of these institutions.  So here’s my take-away:  The skills you gain by studying art will help you in whatever career path you choose.

Have you heard of the saying “everything I learned, I learned in kindergarten?”  I might amend that to art school.  As an art major you’ll gain numerous invaluable skills (besides the artistic ones!) that are transferable into any field or career.

Here are my top four:

1 – Problem solving:  It’s plain and simple; as an art student most of your time will be spent solving problems.  They might not seem like it at the time, but you’ll constantly be making choices and decisions affecting the outcome of your art.  Through practice you’ll figure out the best way to break down a problem to its bare elements, and then piece it back together again.

2 – Working with others:  For group assignments, collaboration is key.  You’ll understand the true value of it as you learn from your classmates and depend on their strengths and timeliness, as they depend on yours.

3 – Time management:  Start with the large number of studio assignments you’ll have each week.  Then add in reading requirements and expectations for other classes.  Let’s just say you’ll gain a new appreciation for jugglers.

4 – Work ethic:  This encompasses a lot: your integrity and initiative, communication, a sense of responsibility toward others (and deadlines), and the quality you produce.  Are you putting your best efforts into it? Holding others up?  And yes, you will discard a completely acceptable creation because it’s not “right” for a whole slew of reasons, or you just know you can do better.

Once you’ve made the plunge enjoy your school choice.  You’ll find campus resources to help you sort out your career path.  At an art college you’ll have more dedicated faculty and staff focused towards your particular artistic journey.  Professors and those in the Career Services department make industry resources available, stay on top of industry needs, guide you towards internship placements, and will help you network with alumni.

Art majors go on to lead creative and culturally influential lives – in whatever fields they eventually pursue.  Artists end up working in the arts, sales, management, education, and healthcare – to name just a few.