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graphic design class

Many students think graphic design is all about technology – the software programs like Quark and InDesign that are bread and butter to graphic designers – and not so much about problem solving. But this semester, students in Alex Girard’s Principles of Graphic Design (ART 215) course learned differently. Girard, an assistant professor of graphic design in the Art Department, challenged his students to have a positive impact on the life of someone else, to and use creative problem solving to make it happen.

“My two main goals in the course,” Girard explains, “are for students to see how much impact a graphic designer can have on perception, and to explore mapping a solution from start to finish.” At the end of the semester, students presented their projects to the class to practice professional presentations of creative ideas.

In the assignment, students were challenged to identify a problem, the problem’s audience, a concept for the solution, and to establish measurable benchmarks on a timeline. The project was very self-directed. Girard wasn’t asking his students for a highly refined design solution but was more focused on concept and process. Critical thinking skills came into play.

“The project is about navigating a process,” he says. “You’re successful in the class if you do this. The focus is not on the end product. And this class is a safe environment in which to experiment and maybe fail.”

Girard was particularly impressed with the thoughtfulness with which his students developed their topics and projects. They “tackled some brave issues, and did some really positive work,” he says. One students’ project was about stopping racial slurs, for instance, while another’s was about teen suicide.

Girard says the 12 students in the class supported each other and challenged each other as they worked on their projects, but also respected each other.

Speaking as a graphic designer himself, Girard says, “Graphic design is never about you – you are the conduit of something external. Your job is to see the world through someone else’s eyes.” One of the reasons he likes teaching graphic design at Southern is its liberal arts environment. He says many graphic design programs are very technology-focused, but the liberal arts education Southern students receive teaches them to communicate well with others and think about the world broadly.

“It’s important to help students beyond just design sensibility and technological competence,” he says, adding that he thinks about what his students will be doing next, beyond college, and talks to hiring directors and art directors to find out what they’re looking for in potential employees. One key skill he often hears them ask for is the ability to communicate well.

Girard’s students and their topics were:

Pause MovementJordan Watkins
“The outcome is to let people know that it is okay to put your phones down for once.”

Stop the Slurs Julies Ly
“I hope that this movement will bring an understanding that racial slurs hurt.”

More than Something on a Wall Trevon Homeward-Bennett
“I’m hoping that after this show other people would be inspired to create their own art, with their own interpretations and have fun with it.”

Not a Starter Fish Julia Zeidler
“I am raising awareness about proper Betta fish care to eliminate ignorance about how these beautiful creatures are to be kept and raised.”

Intro to Diving Salim Lemond
“I hope that this [project] will bring forth to viewers a stronger understanding, as well as an increased interest, in the sport [of diving].”

Stress Relievers Fabian White
“I am bringing the problem of stress relievers into the light.”

Have You Smiled Today?Whitney Lane
“I am striving to let people know that you in fact do matter and you have made such a great impact on at least one person’s life.”

Strength is Beauty Lee Langley
“I am intending to inspire and motivate a plethora of young girls to embrace their outer strength and beauty as well as, inner beauty.”

Stop. Remember. – Michelle Tenney
“My intended outcome is to promote relaxation and decompression, both physically and through social media.”

Not Another StatisticFelicia Carey
“I am creating a Twitter movement and keychains with the saying ‘Not Another Statistic’ to help spread awareness and show someone suffering that we all care. Together we can put an end to suicide.”

Smash CommunityEdwin Vargas
“The Smash Brothers Community is torn between two games. Using Twitter, I will bridge the two communities by creating and sharing content that both can share and understand.”

 

 

 

 

 

Mother/Daughter commencement candidates Elizabeth Reyes and Angélique Quiñones.

Mother’s Day is coming late for Elizabeth Reyes, who will celebrate not one but two Southern graduations on May 20: her own and that of her daughter, Angélique Quiñones.

The two never had a class together, but the mother and daughter are united by a firm commitment to education. “I was at Southern first. Then she joined me,” says Quiñones, who is graduating with a degree in theater and a minor in communication.

“I am her mom, so I am going to get emotional,” says Reyes, her eyes welling with tears. “She is an inspiration to so many people.”

mom and daughter

As is Reyes, a single mother of two daughters. Building on years of experience working in preschool education, she began her degree at Gateway Community College where she earned more than 100 credits before transferring to Southern. “I wanted to continue my education, but I wanted to put my daughters first and make sure they had a good upbringing. So I took my time to get here,” says Reyes. She will graduate with a degree in general studies and hopes to begin working on a graduate degree in education this September.

The two soon-to-be-grads note that the family’s connection to Southern will remain strong. Reyes’ second daughter is currently studying at Gateway. “As soon as she hits 90 credits, she’s transferring those over and coming to Southern,” says the proud mother.

In the meantime, the family is excitedly looking forward to celebrating commencement, which will take place on May 20 at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport. Later that day, Reyes has been invited to speak at the ROTC military ball held by her alma mater, DeWitt Clinton High School in New York City. The following day, they will gather with family to celebrate. “We’re really looking forward to it,” says Quiñones with a smile. “Grandma’s food.”

Asked what she is most proud of, Quiñones answer is decidedly short and sweet: “Graduating,” she says with a huge smile. “I’m graduating.”

commencement graphic

Mother and daughter graduates of the Class of 2016 reflect on their time at Southern.

Ideal Study Atmosphere
Elizabeth Reyes (Mother): “I love soft music in the background.”
Angélique Quiñones (Daughter):  “I’m the opposite. First I like noise. Then once I start focusing, everything needs to be silent.”

Most Challenging Part of Attending Southern Together 
Reyes: “No . . . I don’t have anything!”
Quiñones: “She stalks me sometimes. I’m just saying.”
Reyes: “No. How is that possible?
Quiñones: I don’t know where she comes from. She just pops up . . . .”

Favorite Classes
Quiñones: “There was an anthropology class that I took recently. There’s a script writing class. Creative writing.”
Reyes: “I enjoy the psychology courses, sociology courses and education courses.”

Best Part of Attending Southern Together
Reyes: “I know hers.”
Together: “Rides home!”
Reyes: “Having her on campus and seeing her smile. Seeing her being with her friends . . . engaging and socializing with other people. It warms my heart.”

School of Business students

It was a simple suggestion that grabbed the attention of Modern Plastics President Bing Carbone: If he hired someone for just six hours a week to update social media accounts, brand recognition would rise and marketing costs would drop.

That nugget of advice – backed by solid market research – came not from a high-priced consultant, but from a group of five business-minded students at Southern Connecticut State University.

The hiring recommendation was part of a larger social media campaign to help the Shelton-based plastics distributor increase profits and boost sales of two older products, Plexiglas acrylic and COVESTRO MAKROLON® Polycarbonate. The proposal netted the students a $1,000 prize from the company.

“Wow, I’m blown away,” said Carbone after listening to the students’ pitch at the School of Business during the week of final exams. “I’ve been to other presentations and have been thoroughly disappointed. Here, I can’t say enough.”

The presentation was the culmination of a semester-long project aimed at giving students a real-life experience in the business world, says Robert Forbus, associate professor of marketing and assistant to the dean of the School of Business. The project was part of a marketing class he taught during the fall semester.

School of Business students

Forbus divided the class into six teams, asking each to research ways Modern Plastics could tap back into the Plexiglas and polycarbonate market. The company shifted its focus away from those products over the years, favoring the larger profit margins of high-end engineering and medical grade plastics, but other companies have found them profitable. Forbus then gave the teams 10 minutes each to pitch their ideas.

“Ideally, what they’ll leave this class with is a new skill that’s very much in demand in the workplace,” Forbus says. “Plus, they’ll have a deliverable – this plan – that they can actually show to a hiring manager.”

The winning team suggested numerous ways the company could increase sales by stepping up its online presence – using blogs, targeted ads, discounts and promotions and more frequent and engaging Facebook posts.

Carbone said just as he had hoped, the students approached the problem with fresh ideas and a youthful perspective.

While he intends to use some recommendations from each team’s presentation, he said the winners stood out by offering something he could implement immediately. Carbone said he’s thinking about offering the new social media position to a Southern student as an internship.

“I thought they hit it right on the nose with things I ought to be doing,” Carbone said. “I feel that I could implement their ideas tomorrow.”

School of Business student

The university-business partnership began after Carbone approached Judite Vamvakides, SCSU director of annual and leadership giving. Carbone’s two daughters attend Southern, and he said he wanted to give something back.

Vamvakides arranged for Forbus and Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Ellen Durnin to tour the plastics company, and during their conversations, the contest was born.

Members of the winning group said the experience was nerve-wracking, especially since they had to start more than three weeks before the deadline after being told their first plan wouldn’t work.

“We initially wanted to do something with 3-D printing, but they didn’t have the manufacturing ability, so we had to start from scratch,” said senior Charlie Dunn.

Junior Chanelle Clarke said the presentation helped her overcome her fear of public speaking. “I was really shy and nervous about the whole process, but my teammates really encouraged me to go out there and kill it,” she said.

Senior Brielle Grestini said the most valuable lesson was learning how to work together as a team. Other winning team members were seniors Ashley Tomanio and Melanie Sivo.

Durnin said the students’ role in the project should give them an edge in job interviews, and she commended Forbus and Carbone for providing the opportunity. “This is a real focus of what we do in this school,” Durnin said. “We want students to feel as if when they leave here, they have the skill set they need to succeed.”

Starting a new school year brings both challenges (expected and unexpected) and opportunities. It gives students a chance for a fresh start — a way to right some of the wrongs from the previous year and to exceed expectations. But to do so, it is important to have a plan of action.

Students wishing to improve their chances for a successful year should begin with a plan before the first day of classes.
Students wishing to improve their chances for a successful year should begin with a plan before the first day of classes.

Today, Wise Words offers the last half of a 2-part series on how to start the year off right and lay the groundwork for a successful year.

Part II

Kelly McNamara, assistant professor of counseling and school psychology at Southern and a former school psychologist in both Connecticut and Massachusetts, shares her suggestions:

*Develop a schedule…Using the previous tips as a guideline, create a plan to get everything done (including fun). “If you tend to be a more detail-oriented person, or an overachiever, a schedule can help reduce feelings of anxiousness that may arise when contemplating how all of the tasks you have taken on will actually get done,” McNamara says. “If you tend to have more of a laid back, go-with-the-flow type of personality, a schedule can help provide an anchor to keep you grounded so that you are less likely to get caught up in the here-and-now, running out of time for completing assignments and having fun.”

*…But be flexible… “Life has a way of throwing us curveballs, so make sure there is room in any schedule to move things around,” she says. “On any given day, you may need to spend more time completing assignments; a fun activity may run later than expected; a project may take longer than you thought it would; your club meeting or sporting event may run late; or you may need to pick up am extra shift at work.”

*…And find some balance. “Certainly, there will be times when you are spending more time studying, working and completing assignments than you might like,” she says. “But it is important to remember that spending all of your time studying and completing assignments, working or even going to meetings or practice can start to feel routine. Try to balance your time so that you are (fulfilling your obligations), but also spending time with your friends, family and having some fun. “This balance is often hard to achieve, but if we plan for it, and consciously try to achieve it, we have a better chance of realizing it.”

*Establish priorities. Since balance can be difficult to achieve, know what really matters so that you can be sure to put what matters first when time runs short. “It can be really challenging to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life, and you may even change your mind a few times along the way,” McNamara says. “But at any given time, it’s important to have an idea of where you want to go, and have a plan to get there. So, decide what is important to you, and make sure that this priority, or those priorities, show up prominently in your schedule and in your life.”

Good luck to all the students — and their parents — for a successful 2014-15 school year!

The start of a new school year generally spurs a bit of anxiety to students – especially for those about to enter a new school. Who doesn’t have some butterflies in their stomach the night before classes begin, or when meeting your teacher for the first time?

But along with that angst and a need to prove your scholastic mettle once again, September also offers the opportunity for a fresh start. In baseball, if a pitcher’s ERA was uncharacteristically high the previous year, or if a hitter’s batting average was surprisingly low, spring training offers hope and promise to turn things around.

A new school year offers students parallel academic opportunities – reclaiming a spot on the honor roll, a chance to boost your overall average and class rank, successfully completing an Advanced Placement course to earn college credit. Last year was last year. This year is now.

A new school year gives students a chance for a fresh start. Wise Words offers some tips on how to start the new school year off right.
A new school year gives students a chance for a fresh start. Wise Words offers some tips on how to start the new school year off right.

But what steps can you take to start the school year off right? Kelly McNamara, assistant professor of counseling and school psychology at Southern, offers several suggestions. She is a former school psychologist having worked in Connecticut and Massachusetts schools.

Today, Wise Words launches a 2-part series on how to start the new school year off right. McNamara shares her ideas in both posts.

Part I

*Learn from those who walked the path before you. Talk to students who recently completed the course or year you are about to start. Ask about workload, topics addressed in classes, teachers/instructors and other important pieces of information that will help prepare you for the year to come. While finding out that Mr. Jones or Ms. Smith is a tough teacher is good to know, ask what specifically makes them so tough. What do they like or dislike? Similarly, you might hear that sophomore English is very difficult. But then ask why and what kinds of assignments are forthcoming. “Remember, people will differ in their opinions about what was enjoyable, tolerable or unpleasant, so be sure to get a variety of opinions,” McNamara says.

*Seek guidance. Talking to a guidance counselor, or perhaps a teacher or two, can answer some questions and concerns you might have. Maybe you had a good relationship with last year’s algebra teacher. Ask them what geometry will be like. If you don’t know any students to talk with about a course or year, counselors might even be able to help put you in touch with someone. “These professionals are great resources to help you navigate the unknown at school,” she says.

*Have some fun. In fact, plan for it. Various studies show that engagement in school is important, yielding benefits to students, such as higher academic achievement and lower dropout rates. “One way to be more engaged in school is to have something that you look forward to and motivates you to be there,” McNamara says. “Find something you enjoy and do it, whether it is a class that is interesting, a sport you love, or a club that fulfills your creative or volunteer spirit. It’s a lot easier to get out of bed and get to class when you have something motivating that is waiting for you.”

*Make the most of your electives. Most schools have a certain number of required, or core courses. For example, every sophomore might need to take English II. But electives are those classes in your schedule that you choose to take. For example, you may need to take five classes next year, but only three of them are core courses, leaving room for two electives. Courses in the arts are frequently electives, as are those in computer science. But even additional courses in the “basics” can be electives, such as going beyond your three-year requirement in foreign languages and taking a fourth year of a language. “Use these ‘flexible’ credits to make the most of your school experience, whether it’s for fun or to help you achieve your goals,” she says. McNamara points out that a larger number of students today apply to majors or specialized schools when applying to college (such as engineering). Electives can be a way to provide you with specialized training and give you a “leg up” on the competition.

Coming soon:

Part II – More helpful hints to start the new school year out right