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Creative Trajectories: Art & Design Alumni Discuss “Non-Linear” Career Success

On Friday, November 2, 2018 approximately one hundred members of the University of Michigan community came together at UMMA’s Helmut Stern Auditorium for Creative Trajectories: A Different Stamp on the World.

This panel discussion was an exploration of the unique ways that an art and design education at the University of Michigan prepares graduates for a wide variety of careers. Moderated by Dr. Jane Prophet, associate dean for research, creative practice, and strategic initiatives at the Stamps School, the panel featured four Stamps School alumni: plastic surgeon Marguerite Aitken (BFA 1988); Tappan Collective founder Chelsea Neman Nassib (BFA 2010); Head of Brand at Duo Peter Baker (BFA 2000); and COO at Baycrest Partners Darren Wolfberg (BFA 1998).

In addition to offering the audience a fascinating look into their “non-linear” career paths — from medical illustrator to plastic surgeon; from fine artist to collecting entrepreneur; from fine art photographer to brand director; and from industrial designer to blockchain COO — all four Stamps alumni were adamant about the ways that their art and design education gave them a competitive edge in the workforce.

L-R: Dr. Jane Prophet, Darren Wolfberg, Marguerite Aitken, Chelsea Neman Nassib, and Peter Baker.

Wolfberg reflected on the impact of his industrial design coursework at Stamps, especially when it came to the wide variety of assignments given. “One day you were designing for automotive and the next day you were designing infant products,” Wolfberg said.

“Similarly, at a start-up or in business, there’s always a new problem to understand and solve.”

Wolfberg continued, stating that in finance, he’s used his visualization skills to communicate abstract market concepts for his partners and clients. “Nobody else on Wall Street can do that,” he said.

Neman Nassib felt that experiencing critiques in art school taught her invaluable skills that she uses in her daily work as an art collector. “In my job today, I’m constantly looking at artwork and judging it. Does it have integrity? Is it unique or have I seen it a million times before? Those are skills you can only get from a critique.”

Tappan Collective founder Chelsea Neman Nassib (BFA 2010) speaks at the Creative Trajectories panel discussion

Baker agreed, adding that the critique experience also gave him the ability to give effective feedback, with empathy. “You have the skills to talk with someone about their work constructively, communicating in a way that isn’t dictating the end result.”

“In critique, you learn how to take criticism, you learn how to defend your work,” Neman Nassib said. Baker agreed, “It teaches you that you are not your idea, how to take criticism without taking it personally.”

For Aitken, a Stamps education taught her how to ask the right questions.

“They taught us how to think differently. How to problem solve. There’s no straight line to an answer — there are many different ways to think about it,” she said.

The panelists ended the discussion by providing incredible industry advice to the prospective and current students in the audience.

According to Baker, a hardworking, humble, business-oriented approach is best. “Don’t expect to be discovered. Nobody is out there looking for you. Find a way to communicate how you’re useful to them. Start considering yourself an entrepreneur. Whether you’re going to go into business or continue as a fine artist, either way you are a business person.”

Completing an art and design education at Stamps was key for Wolfberg. “Stamps and the University of Michigan are phenomenal places for you to go if you want to be employed. Michigan is a nucleus of research — and at Stamps, you work directly with these other disciplines. You learn critical thinking and design skills that extend beyond what the packaging is. You learn to design culture.”

Watch the full panel discussion below.