Launch of School of Design and Creative Technologies marks new era for College of Fine Arts
By Alicia Dietrich
The College of Fine Arts has been undergoing a transformation over the past few years with the addition of new majors and other programs. This past summer, the college saw one of the biggest changes in its 80-year history: the launch of the School of Design and Creative Technologies, a fourth academic unit in the college that joins the Department of Art and Art History, the Department of Theatre and Dance and the Butler School of Music.
“The School of Design and Creative Technologies positions UT Austin more assertively into emerging creative, commercial disciplines that are driving culture and economies in the 21st century—for the benefit of our students and the relevance of our university,” said College of Fine Arts Dean Doug Dempster. “The school is also an unorthodox educational venture for a research university. We’re exploring new models for achieving sustainable excellence in cutting-edge programs worthy of the flagship university of the state of Texas.”
The school includes the Department of Design, the Department of Arts and Entertainment Technologies, the Center for Integrated Design and the Design Institute for Health, a partnership with the Dell Medical School.
The new school is led by design industry thought leader Doreen Lorenzo, who is the founding and current director of the Center for Integrated Design. The new Department of Arts and Entertainment Technologies is led by Professor Bruce Pennycook, and design industry and academic veteran Kate Canales has been hired as the new chair of the Department of Design.
A National Endowment for the Arts study found that the creative economy has grown 38.5 percent in the last 10 years, and growth is expected to continue. Students with creative and critical thinking skills are highly sought after by organizations in all industries. The new school will focus on educating students for creative professions in heavy demand across a wide range of industries. Students will study designing for health, designing for artificial intelligence, creative technologies in theater and music, entrepreneurial ventures and cross-disciplinary design thinking methodologies.
“At the School of Design and Creative Technologies, we teach valuable problem-solving skills to prepare the next generation of creatives in the business, nonprofit and government worlds,” said Lorenzo. “Organizations are aggressively looking for differentiated ways to crack the code on a multitude of challenges they face today. Our goal is to educate our students to solve these complex problems in a multidisciplinary, imaginative environment.”
The launch of the school marks a pivot point for the college. After two decades with undergraduate enrollments trending down, the College of Fine Arts has entered a new era of growth. The college reached its lowest undergraduate enrollment numbers in 2015, down 27 percent from 1997. But since 2015, undergraduate enrollments are up 15 percent, a rise that’s almost entirely attributable to undergraduates enrolling in the new B.S. in Arts and Entertainment Technologies (AET) that launched in 2016.
The college also has ambitious plans to grow undergraduate enrollment in the Department of Design in the coming years, and with enrollment projections in AET and Design, the new school is expected to become the largest academic unit in the college in the next few years.
CREATING ENTREPRENEURIAL LEADERS
The new school is being built with a strong spirit of entrepreneurialism embedded into its DNA. The college recruited serial entrepreneur Jan Ryan as the new director of creative entrepreneurship and innovation. Ryan will work closely with Lorenzo and Fine Arts Career Services to develop new courses and co-curricular programs in entrepreneurship.
“Like many arts schools, we’ve long prepared our graduates to be successful, self-employed, creative freelance artists and performers. We’re good at teaching that terrific professional skillset in a ‘gig-economy’,” said Dempster. “What’s missing is the opportunity for arts students—‘creatives’—to think bigger and in more entrepreneurial ways about launching and building businesses that open new markets, address social needs, attract investors, create jobs and build wealth well beyond what might be possible by a gigging artist or performer.”
In her role, Ryan is introducing a core set of entrepreneurship fundamentals throughout the College of Fine Arts curriculum, as well as integrating the college into the broader innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem growing at UT and in Austin.
“Thinking like an entrepreneur—problem-solving, understanding an audience, building a brand, working collaboratively across disciplines—these are skills that students can use throughout their lives to be more successful,” said Ryan. “My vision is to provide our students with critical thinking, communication and collaboration skills that will help them design their own careers, again and again, throughout their lives, compatible within their professional passions.”
The new school is working with industry partners, both inside and outside of the classroom, to create new hands-on learning opportunities for students and to open up new internship and job opportunities.
In the fall, the college launched “Collaboration @ IBM,” a three-hour course offered through the Center for Integrated Design to 24 UT undergraduates from colleges across campus. Students were led through a rigorous semester-long design thinking training program taught by IBM designers at the IBM Design Studios in North Austin. Each week students were shuttled from UT to IBM’s Austin campus, where they worked to solve actual IBM problems as they partnered with IBM project sponsors, in a similar manner that new employees are introduced to the company.
Students engaged in projects that had unique constraints, far-reaching applications and required intense collaboration to solve. IBM employee mentors and guest speakers were on hand to facilitate research and help students wrangle with challenges, and at the end of the semester, students presented their project findings —a unique experience to add to their professional portfolios.
This spring, similar new courses were added through partnerships with USAA and McKinsey, and the school plans to expand collaborations and opportunities like these to students majoring in Design and Arts and Entertainment Technologies.
“Rethinking undergraduate education means providing meaningful experiences that prepare our students for life after graduation. The new School of Design and Creative Technologies reflects this type of educational experience,” said Maurie McInnis, executive vice president and provost of UT Austin. “The school challenges traditional conventions by placing human- centric design methodologies at the core of its curriculum model to enhance the undergraduate experience.”