NMSU Arrowhead Center, DACC collaborate to help graphic design students grow

A collaboration between creative colleagues at two of the New Mexico State University system’s campuses has led to a productive internship program that has helped launch the graphic design careers of more than a dozen students over five years.

Matt Byrnes, Doña Ana Community College’s art department chair, and Peter Knapp, creative director and marketing lead of NMSU’s Arrowhead Center, have known each other for years – Byrnes was formerly Knapp’s teacher at DACC. Now, they are colleagues and friends, leveraging their talents and connections to a common mission: shepherding students into fulfilling careers.

Knapp earned his associate degree in digital graphics design from DACC and his bachelor of fine arts, specializing in graphic design, at NMSU. After graduating, he came to back to NMSU’s creative campus environment through Arrowhead Center. There, he went to Byrnes with an idea. Since Knapp had learned from him, could Byrnes present at Arrowhead Center’s Craftbox meetings?

The monthly get-togethers are a place for designers, entrepreneurs, and artists to workshop ideas and share practical tips – like how to set their prices, how to work with clients and new tricks in common software.

“There are so many talented professionals within the NMSU and DACC campuses, we know that they can become a valuable part of our network at Arrowhead Center,” Knapp said. “Even if they’re already instructors, they can pass along not just book smarts, but how to navigate the professional world students will head into after they graduate.”

In short order, after seeing the enthusiasm of Craftbox attendees, Knapp and Byrnes realized they could create another opportunity. Arrowhead Center works with emerging businesses that need graphic design; students from DACC need exposure to real clients for their portfolios. With a paid internship at Arrowhead Center, those students could have access to real portfolio-building work, while in school, under the guidance of both Byrnes and Knapp.

A successful collaboration over the last five years has brought 14 student design interns to Arrowhead Center. The students had been able ask direct advice from Knapp and other designers, and work directly with clients who need to craft the right message for their marketing strategy through fresh graphic design.

“While at Arrowhead, I received some great mentorship,” said Min Tan, former Arrowhead intern graphic designer and now a graphic designer for Electronic Caregiver. “The experiences I gained were invaluable in helping me grow as a designer. It was something I never could have gotten from a class in school; the work taught me how to think critically and problem solve differently than how I did in school.”

Erin Heath, another former intern and now-full time design professional, spoke to the variety that she encountered while at Arrowhead. “I worked on several different types of design work, including logos, layout, and print work,” she said. “It really gave my portfolio a well-rounded feel and having real-world examples set me apart from peers who only had schoolwork examples.”

Knapp is also an adjunct professor at DACC and helps scout students from his classes and Byrnes’ for internships. “The students become a part of the network for their client and they get invested,” Knapp said. “Plus, they learn to navigate not only design, but the soft skills that they can take anywhere like time management, client communication, and constructive criticism of their work and the feedback from clients.”

Kathryn Hansen, director of Arrowhead Center, has seen the efforts pay off for the students and the emerging businesses. “We’ve seen some incredible work through the students that come through Arrowhead Center,” she said. “The access to the pipelines of talent at DACC is what makes the collaboration with them invaluable for us, for our clients, and for the growing skills of the students.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how Arrowhead, DACC, and the interns had to navigate not only their education and work collaborations, but also the changing professional landscape. Interns are continuing their work but managing the process through Zoom and every flavor of cloud storage that works best for their clients, learning more new skills in the process.

“Arrowhead Center is great at pivoting, stepping outside the box and thinking, ‘How can we make this happen,'” said Byrnes. “It’s an organization that can respond to workforce needs quickly, just like DACC.”

“Businesses aren’t created in a vacuum. Instead, they grow in a network of opportunities between people and organizations with like-minded goals,” said Hansen. “With our partners, we are able to develop a versatile and professional workforce that will attract growing businesses and become a key resource for new entrepreneurial ventures.”

Author: Cassie McClure – NMSU


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