Wanted: good students willing to put in extra time, money, dedication

For most students, college classes lead to jobs, but for others, college classes are just like jobs. Programs that require a lot of lab or studio time aim to prepare students for the working world by having them use the skills and materials they would in a job after graduation.

“We want them to get hired,” said Greg Blase, interim director for the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “We want to train the best and the brightest.”

Charles Thomas, who teaches Interior Design Graphics I, a studio class for interior design majors, said students are expected to spend three times as many hours working on projects outside of class as they actually spend in class. That’s a tall order considering they spend six hours a week in class.

“Studio can make or break you,” Thomas said. “Students get almost a new project every class period.”

Real world preparation

It’s not just the amount of time spent in the studio that weighs heavily on students, but the intensity and quality of the work that is demanded of them.

“It’s time-consuming, because we’re graded very meticulously and the grading scale is harsh,” said Brain Wakely, freshman interior design major.

He said a 93 percent – an A in many classes – is considered a B+ in some of his classes.

“We push the students to the limits because we have to,” Thomas said. “They have to be prepared for the real world.”

The School of Visual Communication Design holds its students to similar standards.

“Our standards are exactly in line with that of the industry,” said AnnMarie LeBlanc, director of the School of VCD.

Part of that real-world preparation includes evaluating a student’s work at the end of each year. Sometimes, students get cut from the program because of limited space, and other times they do not perform at a professional level.

“I would think it was related to a professional sport,” said Matt Kruger, junior electronic media production major. “If there’s people who can’t do it, then they can’t do it. This is a professional program. I couldn’t play professional basketball, so somebody else might not be able to make it in this field.”

Thomas said it isn’t just extensive studio work or time-intensive projects that cause students to think about a different major. Passion is also a necessary component for success.

“You’ve got to be dedicated, and you’ve got to be passionate,” Thomas said about working in interior design. “You don’t even have to be that talented.”

A question of costs

Others can’t afford to finance their projects, Thomas said. Students in design-oriented majors have to buy all of their own materials.

Wakely said one student spent over $1,000 on supplies for her interior design projects last semester. Thomas said that amount is consistent with what students usually spend on materials.

Thomas said he encourages students to reuse materials and use non-traditional materials for their projects to reduce costs and waste.

“We’re trying to be a little more environmentally conscious,” he said.

Kyle Skunta, junior VCD major, said he had to buy a Macintosh computer with high-end hardware and intensive graphic software. The cost was roughly $2,000.

Skunta also has to pay for other materials and printing costs for his projects.

“Kinko’s is my second home,” he said.

Dwindling numbers

The work, pressure and time just aren’t worth it for some students. LeBlanc said the School of VCD usually starts with approximately 200 students in the program, with approximately 70 percent continuing to the sophomore year. Through “natural attrition” and the review process, the senior class this year has diminished to 60 students.

Sherry Schofield-Tomschin, associate professor for the School of Fashion Merchandising and Design, said they see numbers in fashion design significantly dwindle by senior year.

“We try to make sure they have the time and resources to succeed,” she said. “It’s not because we’re trying to weed out the weak.”

Skunta said while the VCD classes are difficult, teachers try to help students progress through the program and into careers. The competitive atmosphere, while challenging, makes him want to try harder to succeed.

“The rigor is there for the well-being of the student,” LeBlanc said. “We hear a lot about how competitive it is, but it’s a very healthy environment. It’s not about kicking people out, it’s about nurturing people and having them find their place on a college campus.”

Contact general assignment reporters Sara Scanes at [email protected] and Kristine Philips at [email protected].