Mississippi College | Beacon Magazine

Equipping the Custodians of the Culture

MC offers the state's only MFA in Graphic Design

“I love graphic design. It’s my God-given talent and it’s given me a passion for creating that surpasses everything else,” says Derek Walker ‘12. “I love what I do too much to keep it to myself, so I want to teach graphic design on a college level. When MC was considering offering the MFA in graphic design, I let my art professors know that if they started it, I would come.”

Walker’s dream was realized in 2012, when Mississippi College launched the state’s first and only master of fine arts in graphic design program.

“The idea for the program began with the MC art faculty, whose members saw a need for the program in Mississippi,” Dr. Randy Miley, chairman of the MC art department, says. “Many of our graphic design students wanted to teach, and you must have a terminal degree to teach at the university level. Other students wanted to learn new technical skills. We saw an opportunity for MC to be the place that helped them achieve those goals.”

While there were several associate and bachelor’s degree programs in graphic design offered in Mississippi, the state was losing those students who wished to pursue an advanced degree. With fewer than 10 universities in the Southeast offering an MFA in graphic design, the potential for creating a successful program at Mississippi College was clear.

Following more than a year of extensive research and curriculum development, MC launched the MFA program in the fall of 2012 with eight enthusiastic students, including Derek Walker. The program benefits students who enroll immediately after completing their bachelor’s degrees, as well as graphic design professionals returning to the classroom. 

“Traditional students have the opportunity to hone the skills they’ve already acquired and continue learning new ones. Their portfolios can become industry-ready with a broader range of work, and they have the opportunity to place a more guided foot into the field,” says Dr. Karlos Taylor ‘97, an MC art alumnus who returned to his alma mater to lead the program. “Professionals already in the field can add to their skill set and take advantage of high-level critiques by their peers that they may not get in work settings.”

The program will benefit not only those who complete it, but also the graphic design industry in Mississippi as a whole.

“Our MFA program will serve as a new conduit for graphic design professionals trained to the highest academic level,” Dr. Taylor says. “We believe our program could help make Mississippi’s graphic design culture more competitive with those of other regions.”

Kellye Lewis ’10, graphic design coordinator at the Mississippi Children’s Museum, is one of the eight students in the MFA program’s inaugural class.

“I chose to pursue this program for several reasons,” Lewis says. “I’ve always enjoyed working with our art department professors. Each one of them shows such a dedication and passion for their field, and I knew I still had a lot to learn from them. I also wanted to stay close to home in order to continue to support my state and help our community grow and prosper. Through the program, I’ve been able to make networking connections with companies in the Jackson area, where I hope to continue working for years to come.”

According to Dr. Taylor, the biggest challenge moving forward is making sure the curriculum remains relevant to the design industry. A key component of the program is connecting students with experienced design professionals already working in the field.

“Last semester, I had the students critique the work of a guest design professional,” Dr. Taylor continues. “Not only did the students express their thanks for the opportunity to critique a designer with more exposure and experience, but the guest professional also told me how valuable it was for him to be critiqued by other designers. The graphic design profession asserts that satisfying the client's needs is your only measure of success, but the substantive fellowship of design peers is the best example of 'iron sharpening iron’ that I know. That experience showed me the value our program can bring to the professional world, and that a more dynamic interaction with the field is what has been missing in graphic design education.”

Dr. Taylor sees a higher purpose for the program beyond just equipping its students for the professional world.

“We have to be conscious of design trends and position ourselves to respond to them in ways that reflect our Christian worldview,” Dr. Taylor says.  “Graphic designers have a great responsibility to their cultures. The social media phenomena, for example, is only one of the more recent aspects of the field that challenges our ethics as well as our technical know-how.”

“The biggest challenge for me so far has been trying to answer some questions of my own about my art through this process,” Walker says. “Sure, I’m getting my MFA so I can teach, but I am also creating and designing a breadth of work that is going to communicate a message. I wrestle a lot with, ‘What am I trying to say?’ with these projects, and whether my work is a true reflection of me even though it’s representing an idea bigger than me. As artists, we communicate a message with our work, and I want to make sure that the message I create is powerful and effective.”

“With this program, we want to revolutionize the ways that the corporate world interacts with higher education. Together, we can become more accountable for the direction of the graphic design industry,” Dr. Taylor says. “Graphic designers are the custodians of culture. More importantly, we are the bearers of God's word in our responsibility for making it visible and tangible. This program is an opportunity to make a more significant impact for Christ within the entire field of design.”