Design professor personalizes support to help students grow

Hye-Jin Nae receives Eisenhart Award for Outstanding Teaching

Carlos Ortiz

Hye-Jin Nae, associate professor in RIT’s School of Design.

Cultivating a collection of orchids can be a challenge for even the most experienced gardener. Hye-Jin Nae ’04 MFA (computer graphics design) has learned a lot about caring for the delicate plants after years of growing her collection, from identifying how to provide support as the stems and roots grow to knowing how to be attentive and adjust her care so the fickle blooms can thrive.

She explained that the lessons she learned by tending to her collection have helped inform her approach to teaching.

“I believe teaching involves understanding each of your students individually. As we nurture their growth, it is important to understand and adjust how to support them. Sometimes this might mean to push them really hard and challenge them. Other times, you need to help them slow down and focus on smaller objectives,” said Nae. “It’s important to me to recognize their growth and pay close attention to how I can personalize my support for them.”

Nae is among the recipients of the 2024 Eisenhart Awards for Outstanding Teaching. After teaching at RIT for over a decade, her passion and attentive approach to education continues to shine, especially when talking about her students’ successes.

After graduating from RIT’s computer graphics design MFA program, now known as visual communication design, Nae worked in the design industry for four years. She first joined the RIT community in 2008, but, to ensure she was keeping up with the rapidly evolving field of design, she returned to working in the industry for another four years. In 2014, she came back to the university to teach in the College of Art and Design’s new media design program.

Nae didn’t always plan to become an educator. Her professor and mentor at the University of Wisconsin, where she earned her second undergraduate degree, planted the idea in her mind during her senior year. Coincidentally, he recommended that she pursue her master’s degree at RIT and consider becoming a professor of design. While she didn’t immediately follow that path, her work ultimately led her back to the Brick City.

“When I was working in the industry, I actually came to RIT several times for Creative Industry Day. As I continued to engage with RIT, I realized how special the students were and how RIT was preparing students to combine technology and creativity to transform the future of the field,” said Nae. “When I came back, the opportunity to help prepare student designers for their futures became a cornerstone of my teaching.”

When Nae learned she received an award for outstanding teaching, she felt elated and grateful for the recognition. She credits her success to the strong sense of community cultivated in the School of Design and the new media design program.

“In our new media design community, we all share a vision and work toward that vision together. We help each other so we can help our students,” said Nae. “This award means so much to me because it represents the connection between students and faculty. I’m truly honored to receive this award and share that recognition with our community as a whole.”

Nae’s contributions to the university extend beyond the new media design program. She has supported projects within the Personalized Healthcare Technology (PHT180) initiative and the MAGIC Center as a UI/UX lead and mentor, and she has been the principal investigator and co-principal investigator on a number of sponsored research grants during her time at RIT.

Through all of her work, Nae takes every opportunity to uplift and encourage her students’ passions. Whether it’s pushing them to achieve their best or working with them one-on-one to ensure student success, she welcomes every teaching opportunity.

“When you complete a project in the industry, you get a lot of quantifiable feedback and professional rewards. But teaching provides a different kind of fulfillment. As I watch them grow from their first year to their graduation, and then into their professional life, the joy my students share with me is my motivation and reward,” said Nae. “I’m inspired by my students every day, and being part of their growth is the reason I continue to teach.”

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