A Modern Take on Higher Education

Creating the future designers of the world

Natasha Baker

According to a recent study by Pew Research Center, more than three quarters of Americans own a smartphone and more and more are using those devices for a variety of nontraditional phone activities, such as looking for a job, reading a book or streaming a TV show.

This change in how consumers receive and use online content prompted the leadership at Kettering’s School of Advertising Art (SAA) to take a hard look at its curriculum and branding. For more than 35 years SAA served the marketing community in and around Dayton by educating future graphic designers.

Part of the draw of the school was the high regard it drew from the design industry. It has been named one of the Top 25 design schools in the country by Graphic Design USA Magazine for six years in a row. The college has worked to stay in touch with the needs of area employers and trends in the industry.

“Over the past several years employers were excited in our hybrid designer concept,” says SAA Owner and President Jessica Barry. “Graduates of our associate’s degree program were generalists capable of doing work in several facets of brand development and platforms beyond print, including web design and video.”

Everything Is New Again
Knowing that consumers have more choices than ever for finding endless information about products and services marketing trends are leaning more toward a broader range of digital consumer experiences. This meant that designers of marketing also had to be increasingly online savvy.

“Our students needed to graduate as more than just well-rounded, they needed better communication skills, the ability to really think through a consumer experience and grasp the full picture of how customers are interacting with a brand or a product,” says Barry.

With that in mind, Barry and her team set about rethinking the college’s approach. They redesigned the current degree program to an Associate of Arts Degree in Applied Business and Design expanding the graduate’s knowledge to include a wider base of business skills. And employers are responding.

“Companies like Midmark, CareSource, Reynolds and Reynolds, even tech firms were hiring our students before the traditional marketing companies,” says Sara Farr, director of career services for the college. “There are incredible positions in the Dayton, Cincy and Columbus areas, as well as outside our market, and they have impressive compensation packages, expanded benefit options and more flexibility and travel.”

New Look
In addition to all of the curriculum changes, the college decided it was also time for a refresh of its own. Embarking on a $6 million campus expansion in May of 2017, the college added 23,000 square feet to its Kettering location.

At the grand opening event in March, the college announced it would also be changing its name to The Modern College of Design. According to its website, the name “reflects SAA’s continual dedication to updating curriculum to meet the needs of employers and ensure graduates are prepared for successful careers as leaders in design.”

New Learning
Responding to a request from its employer partners, The Modern College of Design created a soft-skills program focused on learning necessary skills like critical thinking, client interaction, presenting and writing skills, and more.

Integrated throughout a student’s entire education, many of the standard courses now offer additional assignments aimed at teaching these skills.

“My experience translating from student to employee has been extremely easy,” says Cesar Escobar, The Modern College of Design alumnus and current UX/IU designer at Marxent. “I was able to gain so much from the classes I took. It felt like they knew exactly what I was going to come up against.”

The portfolio development process, completed in the final semester before graduation, also offers mock interviews, portfolio reviews with potential employers and includes a month-long externship. In many cases, those students get hired on full time after they graduate. In fact, the college has experienced a 93-100 percent placement rate each of the last three years.

“The externship is a fantastic opportunity for our students to understand how important it is to arrive for your job on time, dressed appropriately and ready to present their work to clients in a multitude of environments before they actually enter the workforce,” says Barry.

New Program
The Modern College of Design is currently working on getting accreditation board approval for a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Design Leadership. The addition of the new program impacted not only the college’s ability to provide the additional curriculum, but meant a change in the overall business strategy.

“We are required to have instructors with bachelor’s and, in some cases, master’s degrees for accreditation, something we have never had to do,” says Barry.

“Our faculty is working to add to their own education to complete their own degrees. At the same time, we are adding staff to accommodate the extended curriculum and administrative needs.”

In fact, the college anticipates adding a full-time program director for the bachelor’s program to manage the curriculum development, full-time and adjunct faculty, and other oversight this fall.

Not New To The Community
Every year 60-70 percent of the The Modern College of Design’s students move into the Kettering area to attend the college. Most of those students live in area apartment complexes, get jobs with area employers and shop and eat in area businesses.

Their contribution to the local economy has not gone unnoticed by the city of Kettering. Barry is currently working with the city to develop land adjacent to the campus into residential housing for students.

“I was 19 when I moved up to Ohio by myself,” shared Escobar, originally from Winter Park, Fla. “I gave up a lot moving up to Ohio but I gained so much more from this school, from knowledge to connections and experiences I would have never imagined.”