With professor’s guidance, Texas State grads dive into dream jobs with Dutch design firms By Billi London-Gray, University Marketing
They didn’t go for the tulips and windmills, the bikes and canals, or the beer and soccer. Gram Garner and John Yum went to the Netherlands for the design firms.
“The Netherlands have the most designers per capita, and they are world leaders for wonderful creative work, especially in typography,” says Claudia Röschmann, a communication design professor and graduate advisor at Texas State University. “Both Gram and John have an intense interest in that.”
Garner and Yum both developed strong admiration for Dutch designers while they were Röschmann’s students at Texas State. Both received a BFA in communication design, and Garner enrolled as one of the first students when the MFA program launched in 2008. Texas State’s communication design program is one of the few in the state to offer both bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
“In 36 months the program has really grown; it’s a very high-quality, nationally and internationally recognized program,” says Bill Meek, a communication design professor and former graduate program advisor.
With help from Röschmann, plus hard work and significant stores of moxie, Garner and Yum both secured internships and then jobs with their “dream companies” in the Netherlands.
Claudia Röschmann: No boundaries
Röschmann’s esteem for the value of international internships stems from personal experience. When she was a student finishing her master’s degree at the elite University of the Arts in Bremen, Germany, a professor suggested she try to get a job working for her favorite designer, the New York-based Italian designer Massimo Vignelli.
“It was as if he had said, ‘Call up the president, and ask him out for coffee,’” she says. “But what did I have to lose?”
The suggestion, far-fetched as it seemed, was a call to action for Röschmann. She spent four months fine-tuning her portfolio and making a special book just for Vignelli. Then she flew to New York and hand-delivered the book to him. Impressed, Vignelli hired her.
After working in New York, Röschmann accepted a job with an Austin-based firm that sent her to Paris. The moves were big, thousands of miles at a time, but for Röschmann, opportunities to work internationally were not to be missed. She had learned to value the exchange of ideas and the challenges of cross-cultural communication.
“Studies in Europe are very globally driven. Going to a different country is relatively easy, and design communities in different countries interconnect more easily,” she says. “I doubt I would have done any of this if I had not studied with international professors and designers, and always traveled.”
After moving to Austin in 2001, Röschmann was invited to teach a typography course at Texas State. She joined the communication design faculty full-time in 2003 and has helped develop Texas State’s communication design program into a well-respected training ground for top-notch designers.
As part of her quest to show her students the global possibilities in their field, Röschmann recruits international designers to teach weekend seminars and to critique students’ work via Skype. She regularly goes out of her way to help students, like Garner and Yum, gain international work experience.
“You can do anything you want to do. There are no boundaries,” Röschmann says. “It’s just a matter of how hard you are willing to work.”
Gram Garner: Gramsterdam
Gram Garner loves to learn. A gifted writer and a creative thinker, Garner found his creative calling in communication design. After earning his bachelor’s degree, he was in the very first cohort of the MFA program.
“I’m completely in awe of where it has taken me – literally,” Garner says.
At the end of his first year of grad school, Garner traveled to Germany with fellow students and Röschmann to “visit design perspectives in their native environment,” as Garner puts it. The group attended a typography conference in Berlin, visited renowned design studios and toured all three Bauhaus locations.
“During this trip, Gram asked me if I thought it was possible for him to land a job in Europe – he felt a much more intense vibe from the design community abroad and wanted to experience that further,” Röschmann says.
Under Röschmann’s coaching, Garner spent the next year submitting his work to contests, winning awards and polishing his résumé. In April 2010, Röschmann helped him select his “dream companies” and apply to them. A month later, Garner accepted an internship working one-on-one with Ferry van Zijderveld, a designer and the owner of Undog in Amsterdam.
“Dutch design is looked at as some of the best in the world,” Garner says. “There isn't a book in the world that can speak the same understanding to you as the experience of seeing it first hand. Working with Ferry – that kind of design is on a much broader level.”
Garner’s internship introduced him to new applications in his field and dramatically changed the way he thinks about communication design. His Dutch employer recognizes the effect.
“Gram has an open vision,” says van Zijderveld.
Garner worked through the cultural barrier so well that his internship was extended through the fall. By the end of his five-month stint, Garner had every reason to call himself (as he does on occasion), “Gramsterdam.”
“The internship really increased my confidence,” Garner says. “Ferry showed me that you don’t have to work traditionally. You can work outside the box and survive.
“Now I’ve got the itch. I want to go somewhere else. There’s so much more I want to see and do. The world seems a lot smaller.”
John Yum: Door-to-door design
John Yum says he has been interested in anything creative as long as he can remember. “Graphic and communication design made the most sense to meld creative thinking and my love for art together.”
Born in South Korea and raised in Canada, Yum was hard-wired for international art exploration when he moved from Toronto to San Marcos and enrolled in the communication design program at Texas State.
“My father taught me your job should be something you can do day in and day out without losing interest and always be happy to get to work,” Yum says. “I started to get serious about my choice of a profession when I knew I could do this the rest of my life.”
With that motivation fueling him, Yum excelled throughout his years in the communication design program, earning the 502 Student Portfolio Award his senior year.
“I took full advantage of David Shields and Claudia Röschmann, two very dedicated teachers, who pushed me out of my comfort zone, let me experiment and create, and never denied me anything when it came to broadening my design mind.”
During his last semester at Texas State, Yum became interested in design trends outside the United States. With Röschmann’s help, he compiled a “dream list” of employers, also in the Netherlands, and submitted his online portfolio to his top choices.
No one responded with offers for an internship that summer. So one week after his graduation, he flew to Amsterdam. With help from Garner, who was already there, Yum went door-to-door delivering portfolios.
“I knocked on the door of each company I made a book for, telling them my story and why I was standing at their door with a book,” Yum said. “Obviously, they were a bit surprised, but most were very welcoming.”
Yum’s 10-day hunt resulted a summer position with Dietwee, a large firm based in the central city of Utrecht. He started his internship the first week of July.
“Up until my first day of work, I was extremely scared of the unknown,” Yum says, “but I kind of swallowed my fears and went in head-first.”
The proof is in the printing
Yum’s gamble – flying to Holland without a job lined up and riding his chances of success on his perseverance – paid off. Toward the end of his summer internship, Dietwee offered to extend the paid position into the fall.
“The internship made me better every day. The company gave me more and more responsibilities,” Yum said during his stay. “I was given solo projects to tackle. I saw my work around town on posters and adverts and in magazines, which was very cool.”
Garner’s determined efforts to gain an opportunity in the Netherlands likewise have given him immense satisfaction and paradigm-shifting work experience.
“I worked one-on-one with a successful Dutch designer, and it really opened my eyes to so much that this field has to offer. I was involved in every project, from conception to final execution,” he says. “It almost didn’t feel like work at times because it was just so incredible to be involved.”
Eager to support study abroad opportunities for future MFA classes, Garner wants to help create partnerships that will sponsor international trips. His ideas about the value of cross-cultural education for designers will be incorporated into his upcoming master’s thesis.
“I've been able to immerse myself in a foreign culture that has broadened my scope of the world, and I am hungrier than ever to learn. I got to live in Amsterdam, work in a Dutch design studio and study some of the most progressive design in the world. How did this happen?” Garner says. “My answer: MFA in communication design at Texas State University.”