SoPA’s Digital Design Program Has Record-breaking, Award-Winning First Year


SoPA’s digital design students won 21 of 22 ADDY awards for their work in the program’s first year. (Photo by Hannah McSwain)

A year ago, the School of Professional Advancement (SoPA) at Tulane University reintroduced an updated new digital design curriculum with concentrations in graphic design, interactive design, and game art and animation. The new courses and the launch of three new computer labs resulted in a 50% increase in enrollment after the first year. The year was also a record year in other respects.

SoPA students have won 21 of 22 ADDY awards for student work in the Advertising Club of New Orleans annual competition. Two of these students won regional awards and entered the national competition.

In addition to a Bachelor of Arts degree, the program offers a post-baccalaureate certificate and a minor in digital design. Concentrations and courses have been created and configured to bridge the gap between art and technology and are aligned with current industry needs.

“Part of our mission is to align with the needs of the workforce and prepare students to dive directly into the industry after graduation. “

-Amanda Garcia

“The catalyst for the revival of the digital design program was the hiring of Amanda Garcia, former program director and the first ever faculty member to hold a graphic design position at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi,” said SoPA Dean Suri Duitch. “Amanda was running the program there and we recruited her from Tulane. She came here to lead our program and really rocked it and expanded it. She has a very ambitious vision to build this program by working with people from the local industry and has used their input to create the current program.

Garcia is also the driving force behind the program’s rapid take-off. One of her first jobs when she arrived at Tulane was to identify labor needs in the New Orleans metro area. Drawing on labor market data that shows a growing need for professionals in this field, she has worked with local industry leaders, who currently need to recruit design employees from out of town, despite New Orleans’ reputation as a creative city.

Garcia quickly got to work, developing a rigorous curriculum that prepares students to enter the workforce after graduation. She has established a Curriculum Committee, comprised of both faculty and students, and an Industry Advisory Board to provide immediate and ongoing feedback on the curriculum for the program.

According to regional and national workforce projections for the next five years in Louisiana, graphic design jobs will increase 9.43%, interactive design positions will increase 23.02%, and opportunities in the industry will increase. animation and virtual reality will increase by 11.8%.

Garcia also oversaw the construction of three new labs on SoPA’s Elmwood campus, featuring cutting-edge technology and creative collaborative spaces. These spaces allow students to develop a foundation in the technologies used by those with innovative technology design careers and have also been designed to mimic industrial work environments.

“Part of our mission is to align with the needs of the workforce and prepare students to dive directly into the industry after graduation,” Garcia said. “We do this in a variety of ways, such as incorporating real-world projects into every course, using community service learning projects whenever possible, and inviting industry professionals to review and comment. presentations. “

One of the innovative ways in which students gain hands-on experience is the creation of the SoPA Digital Design Co-Op. The internal agency model allows local and regional companies to order innovative and quality design work. To date, the students have worked with three different startups, including MobileQubes and Contractor Wrangler.

There is a minimum buy-in for each company that includes 100 hours of design work. The funds pay for the stipends of participating students and a senior faculty member, as well as special purchases. The faculty member acts as creative director and project manager. Students take on other essential roles, such as production artist and art director.

“We saw the co-op as a great opportunity to develop a student’s portfolio and help raise funds for special items we need. Last year we were able to buy some big tablets for our gaming students. We are proud that the work created in the cooperative has also won an ADDY award, ”Garcia said.

The trio of degree options for digital design tracks make the program a versatile major for traditional and non-traditional students. Student Tamzen Jenkins taught middle school and high school English for five years before returning to college to pursue a career in a creative industry. She enrolled in SoPA with the intention of taking a few courses to broaden her graphic design skills.

A year and a half later, she has completed the post-baccalaureate certificate program and is a professional graphic designer. During her time in the Digital Design program, she honed and developed her skills to focus on logo design, print and digital design, branding, front-end web design, photography and editing. Pictures. She worked with a local photographer and did freelance projects with small business owners, a local non-profit organization, and a local education program. After completing an internship with a local energy efficiency program, she recently moved into a full-time design position with the program. Jenkins won the ADDY awards for logo design and, along with his peers, an award for their work with the co-op.

“The SoPA program has been a major catalyst for my success and has essentially created a path that has led to many professional opportunities,” Jenkins said. “I have also worked with the digital design cooperative SoPA, under the leadership of Amanda Garcia and Professor Rebecca Carr. Through the cooperative, working with my peers as a group, I gained real graphic design experience while working directly with large companies.

“I feel like we’re way beyond what we hoped to be after the first year. Our students exceeded our expectations. They win awards at a level that rivals all of the top design and art schools in the country. They are at the level of national competition in literally two semesters, ”Garcia said.

“Our first year was about students, the people we engaged in the community, and advisory groups. We want to share the success of our program with the larger community of New Orleans, throughout the state of Louisiana and beyond in Year Two. Our goal is to get national attention and get the national radar. We established the proof of concept in year one and it’s time to get the word out in year two, ”Garcia added.


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