Whomever said high school were the best years of your life was obviously one of the people that peaked in high school and never did anything during rest of their life. High school, to me, was more or less one big blur of 4 years. Nothing really changed much at all those 4 years, I never really matured all that much, mentally or physically. I went to class, and I played a lot of video games, and then I graduated.
I didn’t bother applying to colleges until January of my senior year, about 5 months from graduation. I applied to a few colleges and was accepted into those which I had remembered to send in the applications. In the end, I decided to go to Michigan State University, which I was to attend for 2 years, from September 2004 to May 2006. I wanted to do something with graphic design and the web, and as such I was to major in Telecommunications, Information Studies, and Media in the Digital Media Art & Technology program. One hell of a long department title, we usually just shortened it to Telecom and DMAT respectively.
During my time at MSU I did a lot of walking. I met some great people. I got my first taste of tear gas from a post-basketball loss riot in Cedar Village. I began to find myself, and find out what I really wanted to do for my career and with my life. I started to get bored with classes, I was never learning anything in the classes in my major. And I was not liking the classes I was taking in the Studio Art department, which I was going to declare as a second major.
A younger a more unkempt me.
I decided to transfer. I was going to leave behind (almost) all the things and people I’d come to know and switch to a new school. The new beginning that people commonly write about in tales of journeys or self-discovery.
October 2005 was the month I sent in my application to the University of Michigan. By December I believe, I had been accepted for the Fall 2006 semester. With my transfer I decided to switch majors, mostly because the University of Michigan didn’t have a comparable DMAT program. That semester I became an official student in the School of Art & Design.
Michigan was a great school to attend. The shear amount of resources available to me was just amazing, from studios to libraries to rec facilities. It is a bit sad that I wasn’t able to make use of all those available resources. I found that the professors I had, all the faculty as well, in addition to the staff and studio coordinators were more personable and easy to form relationships with than those I had encountered at MSU. At Michigan I was able to explore other media pretty well, mostly due to their curriculum in which students were more or less forced to experience a wide range of media in their first two years at school.
I found I really liked bronze casting, which I was able to learn to do at the School of Art & Design.
Even though Michigan didn’t have exactly what I was looking for as far as classes went, I still managed to get what I wanted out of my time there. In high school I knew I wasn’t going to learn everything I needed no matter where I went to college, and most of the valuable things I’d learn would be things I did in my own time. I think it’s because of that very reason that I’m in the position I am now, and that I’m as self directed as I am. A nice thing about the School of Art & Design is that I managed to find a core group of students that were really into graphic design and didn’t want to stop learning, even if that meant going outside of normal school hours to learn more about design. It was for that reason that I joined up with the University of Michigan AIGA Student Chapter, which was organized and led by School of Art & Design students. This student organization is one that I would, a year later, become the vice president, and president a year after that. AIGA was a good experience to learn to talk to and lead a group.
There were a few negatives to the School of Art & Design as with any higher learning program in this country. One of those being that while there, I was subjected to some irregularity of the curriculum. Meaning that the curriculum had changed about twice in roughly five years, once while I was a student. The turbulence in the curriculum led to some confusion on the part of the professors on how and what they should be teaching. One of the most unfortunate things about the first curriculum change was that the number of graphic design classes there took a nose dive. The unfortunate thing about the second curriculum change was that it screwed up my requirements for graduation, partly because I was a transfer student, which is not something you want to worry about after 4 years in with 2 semesters till graduation. I believe the curriculum has finally stabilized for the meantime and there probably won’t be too many shakeups for a while.
The biggest of the big A&D follies in my opinion was the lack of graphic design related classes; there were about 3 a semester, 6 a year, and they were the same each year. After those 6 classes, you had taken what all they had to offer. The strange thing about the small amount of design classes is that the demand for these classes was very high, they’d fill up before any other class when scheduling started each semester. The demand was high but the offerings were low, low, low. The few available graphic design professors were stretched thin. Very unfortunate. In fact, the administrative avoidance to anything graphic design was that at one point the word “design” was not allowed in any class title, whatsoever, and this came down from the dean of the School of Art & Design.
Another negative of the school – and most likely true of every school out there – was that pretty much every class was taught to the lowest common denominator, save for one class, a persuasive visual communication class. That class was actually pretty cool in the way it was organized; it was split up into 4 small groups by experience and skill levels, so that each group was almost like it’s own little self-contained class. Otherwise every other class was taught, more or less, with the expectation that most of the students knew nothing about what the professor had to teach. Again, that complaint isn’t so much directed at the University of Michigan School of Art & Design, but more at how education is practiced in our country.
The School of Art & Design was by no means a technical school. They didn’t teach all, most, or really any of the ins and outs of the commonly used creative software, that kinda thing was mostly left up to the student to learn themselves. But they did teach up a healthy amount of creative thinking and problem solving skills. It’s a fair trade. But still, it would have been nice to have some more technical skills taught to level the playing field in some of the classes and bring up the level of expectation in others.
Not to dwell on negatives, the best thing in my opinion about the School of Art & Design was the senior-level capstone course called Integrative Project. The class is a year-long course, one that accounts for half of the credit hours needed to be a full-time student, and most of the hours one would spend a week on school work, it was almost like having a full-time job just in itself. The class affords each student with their own studio space; less than a A&D graduate student would get, but big enough, clocking in at about 8 foot by 8 foot. Over the year, each student is able to work very independently and really spend lots of time on conceptualization, refinement, and production. Time management skill were critical for this class as it was very easy to get behind schedule significantly as a number of students did. This class is where you could tell who is going to be able to hack it in the creative industry. To my knowledge very few undergrad programs in art and design offer anything like this.
My studio – a complete mess – one week before the final show.
To this point college has been the best time of my life. Though, I’d imagine the most current part of my life will always be the best time of my life; things will just keep getting better.