Years ago, a designer named Gordon MacKenzie walked into a kindergarten classroom and asked, “How many of you are artists?” In response, an entire classroom of tiny hands eagerly shot into the air. He then walked into a second grade classroom and presented the same question. About three-fourths of the students raised their hands slowly and cautiously. Later, when he asked a classroom full of sixth graders “How many of you are artists?” not a single student lifted a finger. This somber story is popular amongst designers and supporters of the creative world. Unfortunately, the story of the “struggling artist” is equally popular around the world, deterring young people from pursuing creative endeavors, thus bringing an end to their artistic journey. However, largely because of my involvement in auxiliary services provided at my college campus, my story is different.
I have identified myself as an artist ever since I can remember; cutting, pasting, drawing, stamping, and making a mess with anything I could get my hands on. My passion for drawing and painting was strengthened in high school, where I was able to take intensive studio arts classes and master the brush and pencil. I was on a path toward studying fine arts at the University of Colorado in Boulder (CU); however, as high school graduation approached, despite my passion for creative arts, it began to seem practical to study something with a more concrete path towards job prospects. Yes, after making it this far, even I was convinced by the scary story of the struggling artist. I decided to major in environmental design at CU, with an emphasis in landscape architecture studies. This choice still resulted in creative study; however, it seemed that my art would forever be just a hobby.
When reminiscing about my first year at CU, I often compare myself to a kid in a candy store. Fond memories of life-changing friendships and new experiences made freshman year an extraordinary time of my life. It was in my sophomore year that I realized that unless someone was willing to sponsor my new life in Boulder, I needed to find a job. At the time, my idea of a college job was a position where I could make a bit of cash, sit behind a desk, and do some homework when my schedule got tight. When I scored a job as a campus mail clerk, I got an opportunity to do just that. Relatively relaxing and straightforward, I was certain that working as a mail clerk fit the description of the perfect college job.
Although I have fond memories of most of my college experiences, when recalling finals week, the moments that come to mind involve lots of chaos, late nights, and an up-to-my-eyeballs style assault of projects. Clearly, this was not the favorable time for my roommate to inform me of a job opportunity she spotted for a graphic designer position for the University Memorial Center Marketing Department. However, opportunities have a funny way of presenting themselves during challenging times. Well aware of my passion for all things art and design, she encouraged me to apply.
Now before I continue with my story, I must give a bit of context as to what the University Memorial Center (UMC) is, although my words can’t quite do it justice. Commonly referred to as “The Heart of Campus,” the UMC is the energetic hub for CU students, staff, and faculty. Restaurants, the campus bookstore, a beautiful ballroom, and the only bowling alley in Boulder are just a few unique services found at the UMC. Thousands of students regularly flock to the building for involvement fairs, late night programs, concerts, and student group meetings. Services such as the Women’s Resource Center, Student Legal Services, and the Cultural Events Board make everyone feel welcome. All members of the CU community have a home in the UMC. The thought of working as one of their graphic designers seemed too good to be true, and it broadened my perception of what a college job could be.
The application process was a blur of quickly putting together a portfolio and adding some spice to my resume, which hadn’t been touched in years. The posted deadline to apply for the job had already passed, so it felt a bit senseless to be spending so much time applying for this job during such a demanding finals week. Still, the job post was online, so I figured I had a chance. After applying, my efforts were justified when I was called in for an interview, and my hard work solidified when I received another phone call informing me that I got the job.
I was thrilled that the UMC marketing office was a place where my artistic design skills were finally useful, important, and respected. However, for the first time, they were also tested, questioned, and criticized. In my first few weeks, I realized that having a job I loved was a challenge, simply because I cared deeply about what I was doing. The learning curve was tough, but the transition was as smooth as could be because of the amazing group of people surrounding me. Kelly Tomlin, the UMC’s professional graphic designer and my direct boss, made sure I felt comfortable with everything that was asked of me, gradually pushing me toward working on projects that were just beyond my level of familiarity. Truly more of a mentor than a boss since day one, Kelly has taught me new things daily, encouraging me to be a well-rounded designer and adding to my list of skills.
Working in a marketing office brought all new experiences. I was now an important member of a large and diverse team with responsibilities that affected a chain of other employees. The UMC Marketing Department is responsible for providing efficient and effective marketing tools for a large number of clients. Managing a wide range of projects, ideas, and goals is a daily duty, requiring teamwork and determination. As a student graphic designer at the UMC, I am making a difference.
I have always been proud to be a Colorado Buffalo, and I couldn’t have found a better way to become a more involved student. I have been part of designing the campaigns of many events from the UMC Welcome Fest in the first week of class to the Midnight Breakfast during finals week. At involvement fairs, celebrations, and ceremonies, I have seen many faces, familiar and new, and get to see new friendships form every day. I am excited to be a participant in the campus community, doing my part as an individual to help bring people together in the way that I know best, as an artist.
My father has always told me that attending a university is not just about what you learn in the classroom, but the knowledge you gain from the experiences that are rampant in a university environment. The UMC offers opportunities for work experience, community engagement, and student involvement in almost every way. The services at the UMC help students find themselves, and support them to be themselves. Because of my opportunity to work as a graphic designer for the UMC, my artistic identity has been anything but diminished. It has been valued, supported, and encouraged to grow. I now have a robust portfolio, two and a half years of experience in a professional graphic design office, a marketing background, and a new artistic and professional confidence. I was in high school when I first read that story of the student artists raising their hands in an incredible book called Why Right Brainers will Rule the Future. As a self-proclaimed right brainer, my idea of success is not to rule the future, although after working at the UMC, I now have the tools to take control of the exciting, terrifying, and unknown adventure of life after graduation. Needless to say, I’ll do so with my hand held high and hungrily in the air.