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Management Leading Programs page 9

 
 

Design Workshops and Internship Programs
A few Graphic Design programs in private schools and many in public universities have a Design Center or Workshop. These shops are staffed with only the best advanced students who are overseen by a faculty member. They do work for non-profit organizations in the community and a substantial amount of work is done for clients within the university. The Workshop usually is located in a restricted space allocated only for that function, and there is a greater concentration of equipment than found in the program at large. The Workshop charges clients a small amount in addition to expenses. This results in a separate operating budget for the Workshop which may be used without many of the normal university restrictions. Additionally, the Workshop provides the better students with meaningful experience in production and dealing with clients. Students like the prospect of having printed work for their portfolios. They are anxious to get into the program and most work hard once they are there.

It has been my observation that many Workshops are a direct outgrowth of faculty frustration, usually that of the Program Head. Faced with a student mix of electives and majors, insufficient credits for majors, low operating budgets plus the intransigence of university bureaucracy, a Workshop is established as a separate educational experience where the teacher can control the quality of education. Most workshops are a source of great pride by the teacher and students.

Because of the independent source of funds, even though not substantial, what there is goes directly into improving the educational environment for students. The purchase of equipment, subscribing to professional publications, establishing a design library housed in the program area, field trips, bringing in professionals to lecture, promotional materials for the workshop and other similar uses for Workshop profits greatly enhance the learning environment for students.

Most Workshops provide fixed workstations for the students, and many times these are the only students in the entire program that have dedicated workspace. Because of the fixed space, students tend to be in the Workshop evenings and weekends. The relationship among students in the Workshop is close, and there is more interaction than found among students at large. There is a true sense of camaraderie. The degree of motivation to learn is usually much higher in the Workshop than in the program.

Ideally, most of the qualities associated with the Workshop are those that would be desirable within the program as a whole. What Workshops clearly demonstrate is that the reason for educational programs being less than they could be is more university policies and bureaucracy than teachers! Workshops are a classic example of how teachers develop an area of vested interests within an educational environment where it is impossible to accomplish the same vested interests within the program. The factors making the difference are fixed workspace, selected students with control of budget and program. Administrators wishing to improve the quality of educational programs in their institutions should take heed.

Internship programs are well worthwhile, and especially so for those Graphic Design programs in outlying areas. However, the quality of the internships is far more important than the number. Too often, internships are indiscriminately established and interns are little more than cheap labor in small studios of dubious quality. The purpose of the internship program is to provide practical experience for selected students in a professional environment. The internship is expected to be a learning situation. Therefore, it is essential to select only those firms that will provide a good learning experience with proper role models. Students should be involved in a level of practice that is consistent with their educational goals.

We selected internships throughout the country and rarely had more than one local internship. At various times we had internships in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, Denver, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and for several years, Amsterdam, Holland. Being in an outlying area, it was important to expose our interns to new environments. The experience of adapting to an unfamiliar locale was nearly as important as the work experience.

We implemented our internship program during the summer months between the Junior and Senior years. This allowed interns to come back into the program for a year where they could share the internship experience with their peers. In the Spring, we posted our internships for the summer and Junior students applied. A faculty committee reviewed the applications and selected two or three applicants for each position. The selected students sent their letter of application and slides to the firm. The sponsor made the final appointment.

If you have good internship positions, it is in the best interests of the program to have the internships repeated year after year. This entails being very selective regarding which students apply. After several years of working with a sponsor, their preferences about interns become evident, and you strive to match the intern with the firm. This results in students generally having a better work experience and sponsors feeling positive about the program. The companies providing good internships are cultivated throughout the year as you would treat a good friend.

We kept in contact with sponsors throughout the year establishing strong personal ties with the firm. We followed up each internship with forms regarding student qualifications, how interns performed and asking for suggestions or comments about the internship program. Sometimes the sponsor would visit the school and make a presentation to the Junior class to illustrate and answer questions about their firm.

Within my experience, the Junior year is often the most difficult for students. If students are going to have doubts about Graphic Design as a career, it usually surfaces near the end of the Junior year. There have been numerous occasions where excellent students have experienced doubts about their abilities, or their commitment to Graphic Design. Whenever it was possible to put these students into an internship situation, it nearly always resolved these doubts, and the student returned with a positive view about themselves and their education.

 

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