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Turning Scholarship into Service: Design Students Create Advocacy Posters for Local Public Library

A graphic design course at the Wilson Art Center may seem an unlikely place for students to learn about advocacy and community outreach. But, that’s where a number of Ohio Northern University’s graphic design students learned to integrate community service with an academic subject.

Students in the narrative design course, offered through the department of art & design, studied the subject of adult illiteracy and developed a poster campaign for the local public library.

“We found that very few adults in the United States are truly illiterate,” explained Vicki Moga, a sophomore advertising design major from Stow, Ohio. “But, there are too many adults with low literacy skills who lack the foundation they need to find and keep decent jobs, support their children’s education and participate actively in civic life.”

Through the project, the students partnered with the library to design a message that was intended for the local village community. Students researched, discussed, brainstormed and proposed ideas before, during and after the project. The students’ solutions, that addressed a pertinent social issue, raised a general awareness about the importance of literacy and required them to reflect on core values and ethical responsibility as a graphic designer.

“The Literacy Volunteers of America provided a lot of information about adult illiteracy in the United States,” stated Kevin Drain, a sophomore graphic design major from Urbana, Ohio. “We were presented with an opportunity similar to that of the professional world. The skills we learned were really practical.”

The Literacy Volunteers of America defined adult literacy as “as the ability to read, write and speak English proficiently, to compute and solve problems, and to use technology in order to become a lifelong learner and to be effective in the family, in the workplace and in the community.” But, according to the instructor, Associate Professor Brit Rowe, it was much more important for the students to learn about the design process, not just definitions and adult literacy initiatives in this country.

“Students needed to understand what literacy programs were available and what strategies they offered,” said Rowe. “Eventually, students learned the power that media can play to encourage people to seek help and thereby improve the quality of lives.”

Translating what students learn in the classroom to real world design solutions has been a key success to the graphic design program at Ohio Northern. “It was important to provide students with the opportunity to work with real clients,” said Rowe.

“The assignment gave the students a chance to collaborate with local community leaders and professionals. And because of these experiences, students have developed relevant workplace skills. It was exciting to watch the students begin from ground zero, present their final solutions and grow as designers.”

The 2010–11 academic year marks the 50th anniversary of the Bachelor of Arts degree in art at Ohio Northern University. Growing from a single-discipline school, the department offers both the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees with majors in advertising design, art education, graphic design and studio arts with concentrations in two-dimensions, three-dimensions and art therapy. The department of A&D holds memberships in national organizations such as the National Art Education Association, College Art Association, Foundations in Art: Theory and Education and the National Council on Education of Ceramic Arts. The department is also recognized in the second and third editions of “Creative Colleges: A Guide for Student Actors, Artists, Dancers, Musicians and Writers” as one of the best creative programs nationwide. For additional information about the department of art & design or the University’s 2010-11 Arts Exhibition Season, contact the department at 419.772.2160.

image: Fight illiteracy poster designed by Kavan Reames, sophomore advertising design major from Zanesville, Ohio.