Buttoned up and on the books

My adjunct instructor gig is finished for another semester. A couple years ago I was asked to be the graphic design “resource” for the Strategic Campaigns senior capstone course at our local journalism school. I’d been a lab instructor for this same course since 2006 so I was very familiar with its content and expectations. Even though I was one of the lab instructors, because of my design background I always spent a lot of time with the designers in my lab on the creation of their plan books Books that included all the research, analysis, insights, tactic development, budget and timeline of the team’s proposed campaign plan all tied up nicely in a pretty package.

Now, as a “resource,” I work exclusively with all the team graphic designers. This semester, that number was 22 college seniors. I put “resource” in quotation marks because it became painfully apparent when I started that this was to be much more than the usual design TA position for optional help. Because this project of creating an actual book is completely outside anything they’ve been exposed to the previous four years, the students are staring from ground ZERO on their knowledge of how to do it.

So…..now you know why I’ve been MIA in the blogosphere for most of past 15 weeks. What started a couple years ago as a simple advisory resource position has morphed into something much more complex. Instead of just being available for those who want to ask questions, I now structure this as an actual class; a class within a class. The beauty of this is I don’t have to submit pesky things like a syllabus or go to faculty meetings. I don’t have to read every word and make sure their strategy and tactics are sound and viable. I don’t have to make sure they’ve cited sources correctly or have put sentences together that make sense. And (this is the best part), I’m not required to grade the students! But, I do keep notes on each student’s participation and professionalism, and send an overview summary report to their lab instructors (who do grade them).

And, I’m tired. Advising 22 right-brain Gen Z graphic designers is like herding cats. Last spring I also had 22 designers so I should have known. But adding the hassle of conducting this instruction via Zoom for 15 weeks complicated the process. The lessons I’ve learned through this are:

  • By and large, Gen Z doesn’t pay attention. Most of them don’t read instructions. Many are not resourceful enough to figure anything out on their own.
  • Many opted not to turn on their cameras during class. And just because their name appears on the Zoom screen, it doesn’t mean they are really present during class time. Or paying attention.
  • Most of them are not detail oriented. After explicit instructions, I still marked the same edit. on. every. single. draft. I may or may not have gotten a little testy on my feedback comments about the fourth time.
  • Deadlines are optional. Two out of 22 actually hit every deadline on time with the correct, required work. One student actually emailed me to tell me she would not be able to meet my deadline because she was too busy. Too busy. Senior capstone class. Huh?

But there are always a few rock stars in the mix. Students who are the cream rising to the top. They are a pleasure to work with and I know they will succeed. There are those who sincerely want to learn and get better at their skills. Many of the rest are drug across the finish line and I have little confidence they will or should pursue a career as a designer. To be fair, there are a few who have no interest in this career field but someone had to be the team designer…..so here we are.

In the end, they all confide in me they had no idea what they were getting into when they signed up to be the designer. What appeared to be a fun position and making a cool-looking design project quickly turned into their worst nightmare once they realized all the nuances needed to successfully take all those Word documents and put them into a strategically designed book format.

There is an odd sense of satisfaction at the end of the semester when I can look back at how far they’ve come. The rock stars will always be rock stars. But to see the others develop both technical and design skill sets gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. I always smile when I see “the light come on” and I know they finally “get it.”

I guess that’s why I do this….because it certainly isn’t for the pay!

7 thoughts on “Buttoned up and on the books

  1. Lisa, it’s so AWESOME that you’re not required to grade them! 🙂

    “Advising 22 right-brain Gen Z graphic designers is like herding cats.”

    OMG….I LOVED that!!! LOL!

    And I know what you mean about Gen Z, because in my line of work, I’ve had to work with them a great deal. My biggest gripe is that they have ZERO attention span, unless they’re texting. And you’re right about ZOOM because last summer when I was training for a contract job using ZOOM, practically all of them just posted their names instead of using the video option. OMG, it annoyed me to no end because they could have been sleeping behind that black screen for all I knew. But as you said, there are always a few exceptions (and rock stars) as well.

    And I’m absolutely certain that your knowledge and passion rubbed off on them; keeping them going.

    I love the book cover designs in the photo you shared. VERY nice! And VERY professional-looking!

    ” But to see the others develop both technical and design skill sets gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. I always smile when I see “the light come on” and I know they finally “get it.”’

    That’s AWESOME!

    So happy to see your post today. You’ve been missed, my friend! Have a superb weekend. You deserve it! X

    Liked by 1 person

  2. First of all….give yourself a well deserved celebration!! You earned it. And secondly, I’m totally going to hijack your blog, but this is why college shouldn’t be free for everyone because not everyone should/want/need to go to college. Did some of those kids actually learn anything? I know my daughter and her friends are not slackers…but I also know they are more the exception than the rule. Rant over…great job!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The emphasis is on research analysis and strategy for the campaign. There are very few graphic designers in this course path. Most of them are in the art school. But, basic things like communication and follow through have been lacking for quite a few years.


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