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Preparing the Next Gen of Graphic Arts Re-Educating the Industry by Harvey Robert Levenson, Ph. D., Cal Poly

Posted Friday, June 27, 2014 by Jules VanSant.

PPI has a strong partnership with CalPoly through an educational endowment created by Brian Dammeier. This endowment allows us to bring education to our members and the region while providing the faculty and students at the university a liaison to greater information and opportunities within the companies residing in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Alaska & Hawaii. Printlandia the Series is one of those programs.

harvey-levenson Preparing the NextGen of Graphic Arts Re-educating the Industry
By Harvey Robert Levenson, Ph. D., Cal Poly

Harvey Robert Levenson, Ph. D., is Professor Emeritus and Director of the Graphic Communication Institute at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Reprinted with approval from the author, published originally in Output Links in June 2014

My intention was not to write an article about Cal Poly. However, I cannot help but present a case study of success in preparing the future human resources of the graphic arts and for re- educating those already actively part of the printing, publishing and related graphic communication profession.With a focus on hands-on practical education and training, Cal Poly has deployed a methodology that has bred an outpouring of accolades from the graphic arts industry that resulted in a substantially industry-funded institute for the purpose of developing and delivering education and training services to the profession.

grci_door Founded in 1946. Cal Poly’s Graphic Communication department today maintains an enrollment of 300 unusually bright and focused students drawn from the top 10 percent to 15 percent of their high school and community college graduating classes. Approximately two- thirds of the qualified applicants to Cal Poly’s Graphic Communication program are turned away and many of those who are accepted have attained high school grade point averages of over 4.0 (honor students) and some have achieved combined SAT scores of over 1400 (1600 is maximum).

In operation for over 55 years, the department has over 3,000 alumni, many of whom have reached high levels of responsibility and authority in the graphic arts profession. Most have been educated in the Graphic Communication department’s 33,000 feet of laboratories that have been kept modern through yearly outpourings of equipment and financial gifts from industry.

As one of the largest and known programs of its kind in the nation, the department boasts 100 percent placement for students wanting to enter the industry upon graduation. Indeed, most receive multiple offers by the largest and most prestigious companies in the industry that recruit on the Cal Poly Campus. Part of this success comes from an internationally known faculty of professors, scholars, researchers, authors, and consultants. However, most of the success comes from Cal Poly’s long-standing philosophy of “learn-by-doing.”

EducationImportant When I first arrived on the scene at Cal Poly in 1983, I was skeptical about this philosophy and thought that it was just a cute and catchy cliché that the university used to attract students with technical interests who were not particularly academically oriented. I learned quickly that this was a far cry from the truth. In fact, Cal Poly attracts, and has for years, some of the most academically oriented, critical thinking, and creative student bodies that I have ever encountered. In fact, in 2001, it was a Cal Poly Graphic Communication student who won the coveted Outstanding Student of the Year award for Academic Excellence. This is the highest student award give out each year by the university.

At Cal Poly, classroom lectures represent the under girding of the students’ education. However, it is the laboratory that is their home and where the real learning takes place. It is in the laboratory where experimentation, testing, and trial and error takes place, and it is where the students are able to apply their creative thinking in coming up with new ways to solve old problems. What is unique about these laboratories is that they resemble industry departments equipped with some of the most modern and sophisticated equipment available. This approach has been so successful on the undergraduate level that we now employ the same “learn-by-doing” philosophy in the growing number of training programs that we are called upon to conduct for industry. The new Graphic Communication Institute at Cal Poly will epitomize this philosophy and is being further developed into a premier resource for industry to participate in research, testing, and product evaluations, as well as training, seminars, workshops, and conferences.

Philosophical Premises Underlying Successful Education and Training In the Graphic Arts
Central to Cal Poly’s Graphic Communication department philosophy are a number of premises that apply equally to education and training in the graphic arts industry of the twenty-first century. They are:

—Education does not take place in a block of time. Whatever it takes at GrC-Heidelberg-sheet-fed-presswebthe university; four, five, six years or even more could represent the boundaries within which a block of education takes place. The time involved depends heavily on the individual being educated, the education or skills being developed, and the complexity of the subject matter under investigation. The four-year metaphor for a Bachelor’s degree, for example, has fallen and continuing education of individuals already in industry is just that, “continuous.” If a career is to remain viable, vital, and productive, ongoing training and re-training has to be defined and expected for nearly every position in the graphic arts on the management and production levels.

—The university is the last bastion of idealism. It is the laboratory and its ability to create situations simulating industry that provides students with a window on their professional future. That future includes the expectation that they will propose and simulate ways to improve the industry by drawing on their university experiences. It is through tests, and trial and error, that students develop a practical understanding of what works and what does not work in achieving desired outcomes. A university providing the opportunity for students to experience ideal conditions, or conditions that are as close to ideal as possible, graduates people who bring some of that idealism to industry when they graduate and, hence,improve industry. They bring new ways to solve old problems and with each generation entering field, industry benefits from continuing improvement. The Graphic Communication Institute at Cal Poly and the laboratories included are designed to provide those already in industry with opportunities to experience some of the same idealism in a practical setting that is part of our regular academic program.

—Education is more than a bachelor’s degree that prepares one for an occupation. Reading, writing, speaking, and overall communication skills are as important as technical skills in the graphic arts industry of the twenty-first century. Education and training in the graphic arts must address these issues on all levels. “Human” skills are increasingly what drive companies to success. More specifically, marketing, sales, customer service, and related training are as important, or even more important, than training to operate a piece of equipment. Equipment increasingly requires less human intervention and is run by microprocessors and other electronic devices. Hence, the training needs in industry are moving more to preparing people to develop those business skills needed to generate business and to keep equipment running.

—Education is a service that must address the needs of undergraduates and industry professionals. At Cal Poly we have structured our Graphic Communication program to address the needs of our regular students and also industry professionals who rely on us for continuing education and training. Our labs are equipped with the type of technology used by industry, thus providing opportunities to simulate real business and production conditions. From prepress to press to post press, the same equipment is used by our regular students and by industry professionals alike.

—A viable educational program, such as a successful business, must have a well thought-out and flexible strategic plan. At Cal Poly our Graphic Communication department has a strategic plan addressing forecasts for curriculum reform, laboratory development, faculty and staff development, and related topics. We attempt to project six years ahead and such thinking is the basis for educating our students and training industry professionals on what they will need to know in the future. The six years comes from the opportunity to reform curriculum every two years and then assuming that at least some students well graduate in four years, though many take longer. What do we really prepare students with and what do we really train industry professionals for? From the philosophical premises previously noted come two categories of training needed to develop skill sets for employees of the graphic arts in the 21st century. They are mental or cognitive skills and physical skills.