It’s hard to believe I’ve been working as a mentor for ArtCenter’s Designmatters program since it began 15 years ago.
I had been introduced to Designmatters at an alumni event in New York City. They explained to me they were starting a new program of study for students at ArtCenter: One that would be world class and expose students to working on real-life projects. Problems among the toughest to solve and help make the world a better place for generations to come. I was intrigued.
The early days were quite humble, just a handful of people figuring it out things as we went along. Designmatters would focus on graduate students but hoped it would have enough curricula and funding to extend to undergrads and every discipline of study in the school someday. Excitingly enough, now in 2015, it does!
ArtCenter was appointed the honor of being the first design school to have official Non-governmental organization status with the United Nations. Having this status opened up a ton of doors. It also gave ArtCenter the legitimacy to be a serious and committed organization.
I would be one of the two liaisons for the school to the United Nations. I would attend meetings and make connections that could foster opportunities for future classes back at the Pasadena campus. In addition, I would mentor students from ArtCenter who might be on a Designmatters fellowship from semester to semester.
Soon we embarked on semester-long projects, placing one student fellow in an agency at the UN or another organization. It would be an experiment in fellowships for students from ArtCenter. In the past, students would be placed in a design studio where they’d have the latest computer equipment, juicy design projects to work on and a supportive environment, surrounded by other designers like them. However, with the Designmatters fellowships, the organizations where students were placed simply weren’t set up like that. Rarely did they have he latest version of computer software, or even a computer, for the student to use. Oftentimes, students used their own software, hardware and set themselves up a like a one-person design studio inside these organizations – very much like a design ninja.
After some time we had graduate and undergraduate students in fellowship placements that ranged from UNICEF, UN foundation, The International Rescue Committee, Doctors Without Borders, UN Department of Public Information, Pan-American Health Organization, UNESCO, UNPFA and the list went on and on… students were placed all over the world from South America, Africa, Asia, Europe and America.
Students learned how to be in a different environment than at school. Many times they were given more freedoms. I remember one student starting at the International Rescue Committee working with refugees; after 3 weeks she had art directed a full-page ad that would run in the New York Times. I don’t know many students interning at ad agencies who would have gotten a chance like that just 3 weeks into their job. Students weren’t just in learning environments; they were on the ground in real-world environments. Another student was at an organization for only 6 weeks before going to Ecuador to make a film about a coffee plantation. And another student was with a group in New York and a month later in the field in Nairobi.
As the projects grew so did the program of classes back in Pasadena on campus. There were classes developed each semester in with students from a hybrid of majors. Mariana Amatullo and her team did a lot of work fundraising and building a program that would sustain itself. It was a tight and dedicated team.
I continued to work with the group and saw a shift in my own personal interests of my career. I started freelancing and taking on non-profit and socially conscious projects. I went on to work on cancer awareness campaigns, President Barack Obama’s re-election, a project for Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative, a malnutrition campaign for Doctors Without Borders, an earthquake campaign for Haiti for the International Rescue Committee, and most recently, on a project to pass the Equal Rights Amendment.
I have a lot to thank to my ArtCenter fellow classmates, teachers and the Designmatters program. I think all of them, in some way, have influenced my passion to do what I do. Being involved in projects that have the power to change the world is actually pretty cool.
Learn more about Stephanie and her work here —–> stephaniesigg.carbonmade.com
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