About five years ago, I began to feel that familiar pull that many designers do mid-career–the desire to put my skills to better use, toward doing Good Work, to further my own education. It wasn’t going to be financially possible to quit my job (someone had to pay that mortgage), so the online program at MCAD was a perfect fit. It allowed me to exercise my burgeoning passion for sustainability while still continuing my career in design within the outdoor industry.
After finishing my MA in Sustainable Design degree at MCAD, I figured that I would put my education to use at at my job, working for positive environmental changes in my capacity as the head of creative. However, this did not pan out for me the way that I had hoped. After initiating several projects that I thought would have real impact, all of which fizzled out because of executive/C-Suite hesitation, it quickly became clear that my new skills were going to waste. I was unfulfilled, frustrated and reaching a crisis point.
Enter a summertime camping with a group of good friends. Over fireside beers one night, it was suggested that I look into teaching at the university level. I had a masters now, and was qualified to teach graphic design. “No way,” I thought. I loved actually doing graphic design and didn’t want to give up the practice. But the idea stuck in my head. I missed academia and all the trappings that came with it, and began looking for a way to get back to it.
“This new direction has given me the opportunity to craft curriculum that brings the concepts that I studied at MCAD to my students, going beyond design thinking and into systems thinking, and focusing on the responsibility towards people and the planet that comes with being a designer.”
This past December, events transpired that made it a perfect time to leave my job in creative direction and go into teaching. Today I’m a graphic design instructor at Oregon State University, which also happens to be my undergrad alma mater. This new direction has given me the opportunity to craft curriculum that brings the concepts that I studied at MCAD to my students, going beyond design thinking and into systems thinking, and focusing on the responsibility towards people and the planet that comes with being a designer. I’m struck by the immediacy of action that is possible here. My students get excited about a concept, and run out and act upon it right away! While working in education has its own share of challenges, the possibilities for cross-disciplinary work between research, science, and design is so exciting. The university also allows and even encourages me to continue my own design practice, which gives me the ability to be selective about my clients. I’m able to focus on those that share my values and dedication toward using design as an agent for positive change, which makes every project more rewarding.
“My time at MCAD set me up perfectly for this new direction.”
The interdisciplinary approach really expanded the way I viewed myself and my skills, and opened up my thinking to new ways of solving problems. Working across disciplines is definitely the future of design, and without the MASD program, I would not have had the confidence to take that on. The foundational learnings about sustainability that I gained have proven integral to all my work. I’m excited to expand my instructional opportunities next year by teaching the Introduction to Sustainable Design course to the next cohort of MASD students in January. I can’t wait to give back to the school that has opened up so much for me!