What Art & Design Students Need to Know About RIT

I know, I know. An institute of technology is not the most obvious place to find a top arts program. Most likely it’s not even on your radar. Right? Well, it should be!

cias-twitter-logoAfter an in-depth tour of the College of Imaging Arts & Sciences (CIAS) at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) last month I came away thoroughly convinced that this is a great school for visual artists.

Despite its name, artistic learning has been part of RIT since it’s founding in the 1820’s. Today, CIAS encompasses roughly 2,000 of the 15,300 undergraduates on campus. That means visual arts students can benefit from the intimacy of a small college and the resources of a large research university.

CIAS boasts high retention rates, and both the university and the college continually receive high rankings. Clearly, they’re doing something right.

Abundance of available photography equipment

Abundance of available photography equipment

The School of Design is the largest school in the college and it provides a wide path of instruction in 2D, 3D, and 4D design. Emphasis is on designing for process over product and using technology to connect to real world experiences.

Photography looms large on campus. That makes sense when you realize this is the land of photography and print pioneers Kodak and Xerox. Students in the School of Photographic Arts & Sciences start with a comprehensive introduction to the field. As Susan Lakin, program chair for Advertising Photography further explained, “RIT has so many facets of photography available. Students discover the field and its broadness, then are able to explore a multitude of options to discover what their interests are.” Those options include everything from fine art and commercial applications to integration with journalism, business, and science. 

Zara Davis, sophomore ceramics major

Zara Davis, sophomore ceramics major

Another distinguishing program on this technology-focused campus is the School of American Crafts. Seriously. As with other majors, students studying artistic craftsmanship are focused and dedicated. The program has a rigorous studio requirement and includes a year of business courses in preparation for a career in the arts.

Engagement with the real world is built into the curriculum here. Co-ops and time abroad are both highly regarded and highly encouraged. Creative Industry Day, an annual event, promotes portfolio reviews and networking with creative industry professionals.

It’s difficult to gain acceptance into CIAS, which is foretelling that you’ll be challenged once you’re in. Over and over during my visit, I heard that dedication, passion, and focus are required for success. But the benefits are clear and enormous. Artistic mastery, a career-focused education, and a job after graduation. I hope you check it out.

Michigan Proud

In Ohio, it’s known as that “school up north.” You know, the one that shall not be named. Blame it on superstition and a decades-old rivalry.

Stamps logoThe reality is that the University of Michigan (UofM) deserves more than just a mention. It’s one of the best higher education institutions in the country. An outstanding comprehensive public research university, it is always near the top in comparative college rankings. It has a unique visual arts program, provides a global focus, an active student life, and is set in a charming college-town, in a beautiful part of the country. Oh yeah, and they have this Big 10 football team.

UofM is a big place: 27,000 undergraduate students big. All that prestige and size provide excellent resources for the intimate Penny Stamps School of Art & Design (Stamps); 550 undergraduates intimate.

Lithography demonstration

Lithography demonstration

Stamps students earn a BFA or a BA in art and design, not in any individual area. The school’s interdisciplinary approach is based in the studio and is designed to educate students across mediums, preparing them for careers that will require knowledge across disciplines. Stamps exposes them to the bridges between those mediums and gives them the freedom to shift their focus along the way.

Another distinguishing feature is the university’s dedication to creating citizens of the world. Program requirements include time spent studying abroad and a semester engaging with communities other than their own. The latter can manifest itself in a number of ways including teaching art to elementary school children in Detroit, working with veterans or working with chronically ill individuals.

The school maintains a strong focus on careers as well, engaging every freshman from the first semester through senior year. Support services help with resume building, interview skills, internship guidance and more, all while communicating that a successful career is each individual’s responsibility.

Students inspired to learn something new should apply. Stamps is seeking independent thinkers who are open to new ideas and ready to integrate their expanding view of the world into their creative futures. If that’s your son or daughter, I highly suggest you give this school a good, long look.

Study Abroad

Lucca, Italy

Lucca, Italy

I’ll take my inspiration wherever I can find it. And lucky for me, during the past couple of weeks inspiration has come from time spent in Switzerland and Italy. From the jagged Swiss Alps to the rolling Tuscan countryside and the azure waters along the Almafi Coast, nature was at her finest, showing off sweeping landscapes and breathtaking views. Complementing it all was the wonder of art and design depicted in centuries’ old sculpture, fresh off the runway fashions, and everything in between.

It got me thinking about studying abroad, and how just one semester’s exposure to a different cultural experience can positively affect your point of view – forever. I can think of no better way to gain a global perspective than by living and learning in a different county.

Consider fashion design in Paris or Milan, photography in the south of France, animation and illustration in Hong Kong. The benefits of studying abroad are endless. You’ll be challenged by new ways of thinking while you acquire new insights and skills, new inspirations, new connections, lifelong friends, independence and maturity, and possibly even a new language. And with direct exposure to art history, (yes that is Michelangelo’s David), and cutting-edge design that the U.S. hasn’t yet seen, (where do you think Smart Cars came from?), you’ll acquire an appreciation for multicultural differences and influences, and a clearer understanding of your artistic place in the world.

church details, Lucca, Italy

church details, Lucca, Italy

I’m not aware of a college or university that doesn’t offer study abroad options to their students these days. Research the colleges that peak your interest. Some will offer their own specific programs while others collaborate with international institutions. Also, make sure you understand which courses are available each year, and what credits are transferable back to your home campus. Again – costs will vary, but scholarships are available.

Here are just a few of the programs I researched. I hope you’ll examine them and others.

University of the Arts

Cleveland Institute of Art

SCAD

SVA

University of Michigan (where study abroad is a requirement for all art and design students)

The experiences you’ll have abroad will stick with you forever. Paintings, sculpture, hillside vineyards, store windows, tiny designer cars, leather goods, and the presentation of pasta on a plate all influence and are influenced by design and art. And I’m just talking about what I experienced in Switzerland and Italy. There’s a whole world out there to learn from. Go check it out!

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