The Charger Blog

Summer Studio Introduces High School Students to Career Pathways in Art and Design

A group of creative and artistic high school students participated in hands-on opportunities exploring graphic design and animation while building their design portfolio and earning college credit.

August 10, 2022

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Left to right: DJ Haddad, Melanie Uribe, and Guy-Serge Emmanuel, M.F.A.
Left to right: DJ Haddad, Melanie Uribe, and Guy-Serge Emmanuel, M.F.A.

When Ruby Millet shows off the images she has designed on her computer screen, her enthusiasm for what she has learned about art and design is contagious. She has spent more than a month this summer exploring her creativity and expanding her passion for drawing into an interest in graphic design.

A recent graduate of West Haven High School, Millet was a part of the University’s Summer Studio: Discovering Graphic Design. Her work reflects much of what she has learned in the program, including the importance of balancing bold colors and designs with simpler elements, such as fonts.

“I wanted to learn how to do graphic design for business, and I thought this was a great opportunity,” she explains. “I think it’s cool, and I’m excited to be here. I learned how to pair something simple with something dramatic to create an image.”

‘Art & design is thriving at our institution’

Offered free of charge to creative students from New Haven and West Haven, Summer Studio was created by Haddad & Partners, a Fairfield, Conn.-based digital design agency, in collaboration with AIGA-Connecticut, a champion of the Connecticut creative community. One of the University’s summer youth academy programs for high school students, Summer Studio, provided an opportunity for students to explore topics such as composition, typography, and animation.

“The goal of Summer Studio was not only to introduce local minority and underrepresented students to graphic design, but also to show them and their parents that one can make a good living and have a good career being a graphic designer,” said Guy-Serge Emmanuel, M.F.A., chair of the University’s Art and Design Department. “For the University, it’s a chance to give back to the community and also a chance to show that art & design is thriving at our institution.”

The program aims to prepare students for college, as well as for careers in the field. For the first time this year, Summer Studio offered students the opportunity to earn three college credits.

“This is something I was interested in because I like art,” said Victor Adeniji, a rising senior at Achievement First Amistad High School in New Haven. “Graphic design is a very vast environment, and every lesson we’ve had has been exciting. We’re learning the basics of everything, and it taught me that going into graphic design is complex, but not as scary as it seems.”

Ruby Millet discusses one of her Summer Studio projects.
Ruby Millet discusses one of her Summer Studio projects.
‘It’s something different all the time’

As part of the program, students gain hands-on experience using Adobe Creative Suite while building their design portfolio. They learned from University faculty members, such as Prof. Ken Lalli, who helped them build their skills.

“It’s all about inspiration and generating the spark that leads to passion,” said Prof. Lalli, an adjunct professor in the University’s Art and Design Department. “Without a taste of that, you don’t know if you like it. For these students, this is that taste.”

Students also interacted with other Chargers during the program, including Bayley Fair ’22, a recent graphic design grad who served as a teaching assistant. Now an intern with Haddad & Partners, Fair is excited to show students that they can pursue a career in art and design.

“As a designer, you put designs into the world, and people don’t always realize there’s a person behind creating them,” said Fair. “In this field, it’s something different all the time, and there are different paths. It is versatile. I love that we’re making an impact on these students’ lives, and it’s nice to see them get excited about their future.”

Victor Adeniji works on a project at Summer Studio.
Victor Adeniji works on a project at Summer Studio.
‘There’s a whole world out there’

The desire to introduce students to the many career paths in art and design is what inspired DJ Haddad, owner and executive creative director of Haddad & Partners, to develop the program.

While growing up in Waterbury, Conn., Haddad, whose mother was an art teacher, liked to draw and paint. Despite his passion and his talent, the messages he received about a career in art were not always positive or encouraging. He was told he’d be a “starving artist.” But, he says, he found an “indirect route” to a career in art through the field of graphic design.

“If it was hard for me, then it is certainly hard for kids who don’t have access to facilities, or for first-generation students,” Haddad explains. “I hope to open their eyes to the possibilities in graphic design.

“If you walk into a grocery store, you don’t realize the work that goes into the design of a cereal box,” he continues. “I want students to see that there’s a whole world out there. They don’t have to be a ‘starving artist.’”

Bayley Fair ’22 served as a teaching assistant at Summer Studio.
Bayley Fair ’22 served as a teaching assistant at Summer Studio.
‘Working with digital tools is great’

Created to break barriers, Summer Studio aimed to help diversify the field and address underrepresentation by providing students access to tools and education. They also interact with mentors in industries such as advertising, entertainment, and media, exploring myriad possible careers in art and design.

“I’m in awe of and impressed by how much this program has grown this past year,” said Melanie Uribe, director of education for AIGA-Connecticut. “It prepares students for what to expect in their future. I hope it exposes them to a world of creativity and innovation and gives them a sense of the creative community in Connecticut.”

The program culminates in an exhibit and graduation ceremony at the University, during which participants present their design and animation projects.

Millet, the student from West Haven, is looking forward to sharing what she has learned, as well as the appreciation she has gained for working with digital media.

“It’s neat that so much of this is digital,” she said. “I like using my hands and being creative, and digital is cool. Working with digital tools is great. You’re seeing it on a screen, and you can delete it if you make a mistake.”