Now That’s Dedication

As the culmination of two to three years of intense learning and making, Final Studio can be daunting enough. But for the Certificate Class of 2020, the pivot to remote classes added an additional challenge: having to produce a final project at home, alone, without the in-person instruction and on-campus camaraderie that had carried them this far.

But they did it, and did it well. This past June, 46 students received certificates in eight RISD CE programs: Animation, Graphic Design, Interactive Design, Interior Design, Natural Science Illustration, Painting Studies, Photography, and Product Development and Manufacturing. And while their graduation ceremony was virtual, their achievements were very real.

Getting there took some adjustments, but there was no shortage of learning opportunities, and there were even some silver linings. Jorge Paricio, who taught the product development final studio, said that using technology enabled him to provide better feedback during student presentations than he would have been able to do in person.

“I would take a screenshot,” he explains. “pull it up in Photoshop and say, ‘Before you continue, I’ll share my screen,’ and I’d draw directly on their presentation to show them how to improve. It was better than physical classes because you can zoom in, and they see in real time what you mean.” Not being able to order materials they needed in time to build their prototypes, he adds, taught students the value of using common household items. “Everybody has tape,” he points out, “everybody has cardboard.” One student even printed her prototype, a travel-size baby monitor, on a 3-D printer.

“This program woke something up that was inside me.”     –Hélène Boutserin, CE Certificate Graduate

When she enrolled in Interior Design, Hélène Boutserin had no idea how rigorous the program would be—or that the experience would be “extraordinary.” A native of France, she and her family own a 17th-century house that they have partially renovated. The program turned her on to the magic of lighting, and also gave her ideas for a design studio she intends to create in her house.  “The instructors taught me to look at things in a completely different way. It was like they gave me new eyes,” she says. “This program woke something up that was inside me.”

Mara Metcalf 80 PT found the students’ tenacity impressive, even with the obvious challenges of teaching the Final Studio in painting over Zoom. “Painting is very tactile, and we did our best to show the textures and subtle aspects of the work on a flat screen,” she says. “We also learned new technology together, and the sharing of our diverse digital abilities was a bonding moment.”

The pandemic helped Jordan Arruda, who earned a certificate in graphic design, focus on his final project: “I’m home, I’m not missing anything, let’s just focus,” he recalls telling himself. Having already earned an associate degree in the same field in 2011, Arruda chose the RISD CE program for the faculty’s special approach.

“I’d gained the knowledge and technical skill already, but it’s the thinking and the making process that’s so special at RISD. The faculty urge you to think ‘more differently,’” he says. “There are no limits. You can push yourself as far as you can go.” Arruda credits Dina Zaccagnini Vincent BGD 93/MAT 03, who taught his Final Studio, with making sure the students felt connected—and appreciated. “Dina is a star.”

Mariah Doren, director of program planning and development, admires the way everyone tried their best to make the most out of remote teaching and learning. “Both the instructors and the students were willing to say, ‘How do we make this work?’ Their commitment to see this through was incredible.”

Marking a milestone

At what is sure to have been the first RISD certificate graduation ceremony to be celebrated virtually, Sarah Caggiano, executive director of Continuing Education, kicked things off by expressing her awe at the students’ perseverance, resilience, and determination despite the unusual circumstances. She then exhorted them “to find your own creative path, seek your next adventure, and embrace the role of a trailblazer.”

Michael Lyons 05 IL, an award-winning painter and illustrator, received the Teacher of Excellence Award. Introducing him, Françoise McAree, program manager for fine and applied art, described Lyons’s watercolors as “incredible, vibrant, and intense,” and praised him for being an “outstanding teacher.”

“When I started teaching, I tried to think of all the good teachers I’ve had through the years, and one thing they all had in common was that they all created a teaching classroom where it was okay to make mistakes,” Lyons said in his remarks. He explained that when painting in watercolor, it’s best to expect the unexpected and embrace spontaneity and improvisation. “Often,” he said, “a mistake is success in disguise.”

Graduate Speaker Steven Lucas, who earned his certificate in graphic design from RISD CE in 2016, told the class that for him, enrolling in the program was a huge leap of faith worth taking. “This successful leap of faith has planted a seed in my brain,” he said. “What other leaps can I take?” Looking back, he said, his graduation was “more of a starting line than a finish line.” He told the graduates that not only is it all right “to feel like a beginner from time to time,” but that it’s a feeling they should seek out themselves. Currently an instructor in the program, Lucas also works for (add)ventures in East Providence, RI, as a motion graphics designer/animator.

—Sarah C. Baldwin

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