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Entrepreneurial Faculty Design Program That Meets Needs of Job Market

The new Digital Media degree at McPherson College combines communication, design and technology preparing students to find a career in the ever-changing marketplace. The newest academic program, beginning this fall, was designed using the school’s approach of applying entrepreneurship to education.

“How we have designed our Digital Media major is completely unique to anything in the state of Kansas,” Dee Erway-Sherwood, professor and program director of graphic design, said. “We’re developing the type of curriculum geared toward getting students a job using very different programs, such as UX and UI. Studios and businesses want students who can do a little bit of everything, but also code. And, we aren’t just talking about big businesses. Based on our research with local businesses and their needs, they are wanting local artists with a grounding of graphic design and communications.”

It’s this variety of skills that inspires the flexibility in McPherson College’s degree. Students can take a variety of core courses and then tailor their major to their strengths. They can focus either in Communication or in Visual Design, using skills such as graphic design, web design, social media, public relations, coding, User Interface (UI), and User Experience (UX).

What sets McPherson College apart from other digital media programs, is the facilities and support available to students, including:

  • An up-to-date lab with more than 30 computers, all connected to on-site IT support, and available 24-hours a day.
  • All software the students need is included. Currently that includes graphic design, editing, moving image, 3-D, and web design software.
  • Face-to-face, often one-to-one, support from qualified professors.
  • Hands-on experience in the community at Etch, a student run graphic design studio in downtown McPherson, affiliated with McPherson College Entrepreneurial Program.
  • Competition at the AIGA Design Contest, a professional portfolio and networking event where McPherson College recently swept the awards, winning eight out of ten of the highest awards.
  • Like the rest of the college, 98% of majors find employment within six months of graduation, with many receiving multiple offers.

Following the success of the Auto Restoration program, the Visual Arts and Communications departments identified a gap in the market for their students and took the opportunity to follow the college’s strategic plan of “nurturing entrepreneurial faculty to develop attractive academic programs” to develop the new digital media degree.

The Art Department also reached out to an anonymous donor, who shared the college’s vision and was eager to develop the program. Additionally, the Communications Department brought in Nathan Pollard, a graphic designer with 20-years’ experience in television post-production, to teach and develop new courses with Dr. Becki Bowman, associate professor of communication and Erway-Sherwood.

While students learn communications, business and technology basics, the core of the design element is rooted in art.

“Many people think that modern design, such as coding, multimedia or website design, is a case of knowing which buttons to push on a computer. It’s so much more than that,” Pollard said. “You have to understand the basic elements of the art or design you are trying to produce. It’s so evident when people rush to just get something out. You need to know what is aesthetically pleasing, all-the-while fulfilling the client’s specs with a design that is also inviting to the customer.”

According to LinkedIn, at the beginning of 2017, there were 4,666 jobs are available in UX and UI, and 8,730 jobs available for Digital Media in the United States. Specifically, this can include jobs such as public relations, digital media producer, social media strategist, UX/UI designer, content strategist, web designer, graphic designer, videographer, photography editor and countless others.

Adam Porter, a 2016 McPherson College graduate, currently works as a product designer with FloSports, a digital sports company in Austin, Texas. Porter, who created his own track in digital media before the new degree was offered, says his time at McPherson College was integral in his ability to gain employment.

“I chose McPherson College because it presented me with the unique opportunity of combining courses from different disciplines to pursue a career in digital product design. Through the combination of graphic design, business, math and programming course I found I was uniquely positioned to be competitive within the technology start-up job market,” he said. “Design courses taught me to think strategically about design challenges while sharpening my visual design skills; business courses taught me about the different use cases a digital product designer should have in mind, while math and programming courses gave me insights into some of the technical requirements digital product designers often encounter.”

From the perspective of a recent graduate, learning a wide variety of skills made all the difference for Porter. “I know other students seeking to join a tech start up after college can have the same success I’ve had through the new digital media major. I’d also encourage students to get involved with their fellow students, professors, and the greater design community.”