South Dakota State University is seeing the impact of design


Don Burger, right, explains the impact of design during a landscape architecture class visit at McCrory Gardens.

Created to deliver a new approach to design at South Dakota State, the School of Design started July 1, 2015.

“It’s been a transition year and it hasn’t been without its challenges, but I think all in all, things have gone well,” said Randy Clark, an associate professor in the School of Design. “I’m very excited about the opportunity to collaborate with the other disciplines, that we aren’t so different after all. The principles of design are far-reaching. Good design in landscape architecture is good design in graphic design.”

Other faculty members agree that students in the school’s five fields of study —architecture, graphic design, interior design, landscape architecture and studio arts—can learn from each other and develop new skills and insights in their specific areas.

First-year students enroll in collaborative design studies that focus on design thinking, creativity and professional exploration that create a unique pathway for them to explore design interests before beginning their second year.

“The new core, first-year sequence is awesome,” said Charles MacBride, an assistant professor in the Department of Architecture. “The students are in a big studio in the fall and this spring we had interior design and architecture students in the AM&E (Architecture, Mathematics and Engineering Building). That studio, being coordinated by Robert Arlt, is going great. It’s one of those synergy things. Those first-year students can pick up on the energy in the studio and can see what’s ahead of them. I think it’s great.”

The School of Design was the first revitalization in the College of Arts and Sciences and has its own director, department coordinators and faculty. The departments that were housed in other colleges are now part of the College of Arts and Sciences. Tim Steele, who was the department head of the visual arts, is the director of the School of Design.

State started an interim model, the division of design, in January 2014. Following internal reviews, there was a recommendation to pursue a school of design.

The school’s curriculum includes a set of core first-year courses for all majors—a common introduction to the university, introduction to design theory and practice, a creativity course and later an upper-level course to work on collaborative design projects.

“Previously, students who were interested in design picked a major, maybe without the knowledge of the other design opportunities available,” Steele said. “Students can discover each design major’s offerings and be able to tailor their educational experience to their interests based upon that.

“I strongly believe this collaboration will bring more students to SDSU. Design is one of the economic engines that drives our economy,” continued Steele.

The School of Design model will allow for national accreditation, engaged learning through stronger and better coordinated programs, and extends the reach and depth of the university through programs and collaborations — three of the four areas mentioned in IMPACT 2018, the university’s strategic plan.

“The dynamics in the first year of freshmen learning design have been exceptional,” Clark said. “Their projects are very ambitious; they’re well thought out and well executed. Their instruction, which is a combination from all of the disciplines, is just excellent. That is a great foundation for an entering freshman to be able to come and start one’s studies in any design area.”

Kevin Benham, who joined the landscape architecture program faculty in fall 2015, brought with him a positive change. Benham introduced his interdisciplinary work, unorthodox methodologies and accreditation experience to the School of Design and its students, effectively impacting the students’ learning experience.

Benham teaches various landscape and art courses on campus. One of those, creative cognition, is a unique course that deals with the collaboration of many field majors including: art, interior design and architecture students. Within the course, students learn to understand the totality of what design disciplines do, which he states, is often not the case at most universities, “students tend to be siloed,” Benham said.

“Students can now be put into a culture of design, working with like-minded students in a rich environment that fosters creativity,” said Don Burger, an assistant professor in landscape architecture. “They will be better designers because of their involvement in the School of Design.

“Our students have been prepared very well over the past 50 years but I think moving forward, we’ll prepare them even better through Internships, travel-study programs, the thinking through making programs we are implementing, and also through increased collaboration with the other disciplines in the School of Design,” Burger continued. “Bringing students and faculty together into one place allows for better communication and collaboration.”

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