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TMCC Teams Up with NSC to offer BA in Graphic Arts

Computer monitor displaying graphic design software.
Rebecca A. Eckland

Katelyn Brooke has always had a passion for artistic expression. Thanks to a new partnership between TMCC’s Graphic Arts & Media Technology (GAMT) program and Nevada State College (NSC), she’s getting an opportunity to take her education to the next level. Brooke, who is earning her Advanced Certificate in Graphic Design in Spring 2020, is on-track to begin the new Bachelor of Arts program in Graphic Design, which means she’s well on her way to realizing her dream of becoming a professional graphic designer. 

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Katelyn Brooke, who has always had an interest in art, learned that graphic design also requires a lot of problem-solving skills.

“I’ve always been interested in art,” she said. “In high school, I was more of a ‘fine arts’ person. My first semester at TMCC, I signed up for graphic design, not really knowing what it was... I struggled for a little while, but when I finally understood it, I realized this was a profession that would require my skills as an artist and that also required a lot of problem-solving.”
 
NSC’s Visual Media 3+1 program will provide students like Brooke the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree without leaving TMCC. TMCC has a 30-year history of operating a quality graphic design education program, but until this new pathway was announced, students interested in pursuing a bachelor’s and beyond had to seek that education elsewhere. 
 
“The GRC program has been in a consistent state of evolution since its inception, as new technology drives changes to the way we communicate visually, through advertising, marketing, entertainment, education, and social media, to name a few,” said Department Chair Ron Marston. “There’s been no bigger change to the program, however, than the one that was implemented in the fall of 2018, which marked the beginning of a new set of courses, new degree and certificate options, a new partnership with NSC, new transfer options, and a new name.”

According to Marston, this major re-invention of the program was years in the making. Creating a new pathway for students to obtain a bachelor’s degree has been a goal of the department for over twenty years, and through this partnership with NSC, is finally realized. 

“The need for a 4-year BA degree in graphic design in Northern Nevada is mentioned in both the 2008 Program and Discipline Review (PDR) and in the 2014 Program and Unit Review (PUR), and is documented by studies done by TMCC and UNR. Student surveys, feedback from industry professionals and the GRC Advisory Committee, a Needs Assessment done as a part of the new degree NSHE approval in 2017, as well as one done by UNR in 2018, have all supported the need for a BA degree pathway in the Reno area,” Marston said.

Needless to say, this is an opportunity Brooke’s excited to pursue. “Graphic design is a really competitive field, and the more education you have, the better chance you have to succeed,” she said. 

The Art of Graphic Design: A Learning Curve 

Illustration

Brooke’s early work in the GAMT program relied heavily on her illustrative talents.

When Brooke began her college career in TMCC’s Graphic Arts & Media Technology, she relied on her background in fine arts. “I was taking more time drawing and illustrating than other students, and then I would add the typography to my designs as a last step,” she explained. “I didn’t understand that [graphic design] is more about balance. It’s not just about the illustration or the text, but how all those elements are working together.” 
 
Yet, the nature of TMCC’s program—which pairs students with instructors over the course of several semesters—allowed Brooke to expand on her repertoire of skills as well as her understanding of graphic design as a profession. She recalls one assignment in GAMT Professor Dan Bouweraerts’ class that explored the nature of designing the product packaging. 
 
“You buy stuff at the store and you’re like— it’s just a box. But [Professor Bouweraerts] taught us that boxes could be anything, that’s what’s happening right now [in the market] with more creative package designs.” Brooke explains that designers are looking for ways to turn what was once considered “waste” (the box a product arrives in) into something useful that can be repurposed by the consumer. 
 
“A lot of people are coming out with packages that can turn into pots that you can plant something in. The bottom line is, as a designer, you have to think differently.  As I progressed through the program, I started to realize graphic design is less about being creative, and more about having a problem-solving mindset.”
 
That’s not to say Brooke has abandoned her roots in fine arts; instead, she sees using her time in the program to cultivate a variety of skill sets that will enable her to serve a diverse clientele as a professional graphic designer. “It’s important to dabble in all aspects of design… to be versatile. I took a web design class, I took animation classes—in order to give myself the tools I will need to offer a client a website, or an animated logo. Having all of these skills is going to open up doors,” she said.

Offering Graphic Design Students a Gateway to a Four-Year Degree

Brooke is one of two students at TMCC who will be starting her fourth year classes offered through Nevada State College in Fall 2020. “Both Katelyn Brooke and Megan Horner are currently finishing up their Advanced Certificates this semester, and have already applied to NSC. They will both receive scholarship money from the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers (AGEM),” said NSC Program Coordinator AnnaSheila Paul. 

The new partnership between TMCC’s GAMT and NSC’s BA in Visual Media’s “3+1” program enables students who complete their AA in Graphic Arts & Media Technology (60 credits)  at TMCC to continue for a third year to earn an Advanced Certificate (30 credits). Once they complete the Advanced Certificate, they can begin the fourth and final year, which requires they take NSC classes for another 30 credits. These classes are offered at TMCC. The entire Bachelor of Arts degree—which is officially conferred by NSC—is 120 credits.
 
Brooke will complete her Advanced Certificate this semester, and said that the third year in the program is where she believes she has developed into a more well-rounded graphic designer. 
 
“When you start out in the 100-level classes [in your first year in the program], you do a lot of ‘hand-holding’ work. The instructors show you everything—how to practice using the software, describing what a good layout is and typography rules—that kind of thing.  Once you get to the third-year certificate, though, it’s very project-based. You’re assigned a project with a certain subject and the style the client wants and we’re supposed to run with it. There’s no pamphlet explaining everything you need. Instead, you have to figure it out, just like you would in the real world when you work with a client,” said Brooke.

Poster design for Free Speaker Series

Through her work with TMCC’s Marketing and Communications Department, Brooke has been able to get real-world graphic design experience, which has contributed to her success in the advanced certificate.

Brooke, who has worked as a Student Intern for the TMCC Marketing and Communications office since the Spring of 2019, wasn’t phased by the “freedom” of this kind of open-ended assignment because that is the  nature of the work she completes as a Student Intern. Instead, it was a refreshing change for the work she completes in her classes. “It was like taking off the chains—I was free to create the best design I could,” she said.
 
In addition to being granted more leeway in how she completes assignments, Brooke also notes that the deadlines for assignments are much tighter. In the first two years of the GAMT program, assignments may have had deadlines as long as a month in advance. Now, though, students are given about a week or two to turn around their work. “It’s much more realistic,” she said. “This is what it will be like in the workplace.” 

The 3 + 1 Program is Designed for Student Success.

Poster design

This project, called “Stallions Ablaze”, was one of the first assignments Brooke completed in the Advanced Certificate program.

There’s a lot to love about opportunities at TMCC for students interested in pursuing a career in graphic design. The new addition of the 3+1 program makes what Brooke calls a phenomenal program even better. She cites the small class sizes and the close attention granted by professors and instructors as major perks. “You’re not just another student,” she said. “Your professors really get to know you and your style. As you progress through the program, they work with you to not only develop your strengths, but also to work on your weaknesses.” 
 
Students who progress to the third year and beyond are asked to step back and evaluate their design choices and how even the smallest detail can convey an unintended meaning. Students consider questions like: what’s the purpose of using a certain color? Or what does this font (regardless of the written words) “say”? And, does your design really fit the needs of the particular client or company for which you created the design? “If I’m creating an advertisement for Toys R’ Us, I’m not going to create something gothic. This program teaches you to be versatile beyond what your own aesthetic preferences are,” said Brooke. 
 
Brooke is currently finishing her junior capstone class, which is designed to be a final portfolio class before she begins her fourth year in the 3+1 program. The students in the class are asked to create a challenging project that draws from their interests, but that also demands that they investigate the business and marketing aspects of their work. Brooke is writing and illustrating a short story, called “Peter Pumpkin.” 
 
Brooke, who loves creative writing, took her passion to the next level with not only creating a fully-illustrated nine-chapter story, but also writing a 12-page research paper that explored how one would create an estimate for this kind of work, the process of character development, creating a backstory, working with copyright laws, editors and all the other associated costs with a project of this scope.

Poster design for Angelic Angels

The poster design "Angelic Angels" was an assignment for Brooke’s Advanced Certificate, and has garnered Brooke an ADDY Award.

The project was, to put it mildly, “a lot of work” but also helped Brooke to see “... you have to think of ways of presenting your work, whether it’s visual or written, in a way so that people can not only understand it, but that it speaks to your audience. Writing requires a lot of problem-solving, too,” she said.

Supporting Students in the GAMT Program

Brooke’s next year will be funded thanks to a scholarship from the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers (AGEM). Because she is one of the two first students in the program, she will receive $1,000 per semester, which will cover most of the tuition costs. The next six students who decide to complete the Bachelor’s degree will receive $500 per semester, totaling $1,000 per student.

Poster design for TMCC foundation

As a student intern, Brooke worked with the TMCC Foundation to create these panels which are on display in the Red Mountain Building.

This is the third gift that NSC has received from the AGEM. “AGEM has been very supportive of NSC over the last few years. Ideally, they would probably like to see some of our graduates consider the gaming industry when they are looking for careers,” said Paul.  
 
That’s exactly what Brooke has in mind. After receiving her BA, she plans on working as a graphic designer for a company in the gaming field like IGT or SciFi Gaming.  For future students in the GAMT program who think the BA sounds interesting,  Brooke offers the following advice: 

  • Check-in often with your GAMT instructors. It’s always a good idea to make sure you’re on the right track. Checking in with your instructors each semester will make sure you’re taking the right classes and have the right number of credits.
  • Set goals for yourself. Every semester, evaluate your work and look for ways to improve.  Make sure you’re keeping up with design trends on social media, and look at what other people are doing. If you can, adapt those techniques and try to improve on them. Never stop pushing yourself to new possibilities in your design.
  • Practice, practice, practice. If you aren’t passionate about this career, you’re going to struggle. You have to love what you do, and do it over and over so that you can improve.
  • Learn from critique. It’s never fun to hear that what you’ve worked so hard on doesn’t resonate with your audience, but instead of arguing or being hurt, you should listen to what other people have to say. Taking criticism professionally—not personally—is vitally important to this line of work.

For more information about how you can earn your BA in the 3+1 GAMT program, contact AnnaSheila Paul, the NSC Program Coordinator and Lecturer of Visual and Digital Media at 775-673-7802. Her NSC satellite office is located at TMCC’s Dandini campus at SIER 202N.
 
For more information about the Graphic Arts and Media Technology program, contact the Visual Arts department at 775-673-7291, or Ron Marston at rmarston@tmcc.edu.