Double major Emma Hartvickson ’24 came to Dominican University of California as a student-athlete with two things that have helped her manage the challenges of competing and learning during COVID-19: an opportunity to compete on the volleyball team and the iPad the graphic design program sent her.
Both have validated her college choice.
“I feel like my experience has been better than expected and that is because it is the Dominican experience,” Emma says. “I have a lot of friends back home going to state colleges with 400-plus people in one Zoom call, and professors who don't really know their name. I feel thankful to be here at Dominican with coaches and professors that value my education and my success. With smaller class sizes, it's easier to stay engaged and interact with your classmates in this new world of Zoom.”
That’s been the case in the graphic design program. Faced with the prospect last summer that the pandemic would extend into this academic year and keep students out of his laboratory, Steven Polacco, the chair and director of the graphic design program in the School of Liberal Arts and Education, took matters into his own hands. He decided to purchase and deliver new iPads to them.
“It was necessary and it represents one of those great efforts where everybody puts in a little and you end up with a really good outcome,” Polacco says. “Our students have been incredibly happy. We had almost 100 percent retention.”
For the fall semester, Polacco arranged for iPads to be distributed to his faculty and 46 students, some of whom are majoring or minoring in graphic design, but many of whom are enrolled in graphic illustration, graphic design or photography classes for general education or ‘core’ credit.
Some of the iPads have been returned and redistributed for this spring semester. Emma kept hers for the spring semester after a successful fall semester when she and fellow students created posters for Election Day in Polacco’s Art 1085: Graphic Design 1 and Art 3351 Research Applications class.
“The iPads are the key to it all,” says Emma, who is majoring in graphic design and business and brought her Dominican iPad with her from her home in Kent, WA, when she returned to campus for volleyball practice. “Having them as tools makes it easy to follow along with professor Polacco in class when he is doing a demo. He has been super supportive of our work since day one of the semester, and has helped me organize my class schedule so I get the most out of my semesters.”
Polacco, who earned a BA and MFA from Cal-Berkeley, credits the smooth transition to the resiliency of his students such as Emma and faculty “who are not married to one way of teaching.” He also cites Peter Mentzer, head of Information Technology Services; Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of The Dominican Experience Mojgan Behmand; and Gigi Gokcek, the Dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Education, for their support.
“Gigi is a real ally. She works with you on projects. She totally gets my enthusiasm for this program,” Polacco says. “That has made my perception for the future different. We have a road map now. We went from the unknown to the known. Things with COVID may not get better soon enough, but it shouldn’t at all impact the mechanics of the class.”
First, Dominican refunded students their graphic design lab fees, so they could use that to acquire monthly membership from Adobe and access to its software. The iPads students were furnished include an Apple pencil to draw on the tablet that, Polacco says, “completely changed the game in terms of how they create their graphics and graphics illustrations and photography.”
“The ability to do it during COVID with an iPad is unique. It feels unique. We didn’t skip a beat,” he says, “In fact, I think we picked up more value than not. It was an eye-opener for me.”
Zoom and the small class sizes, Polacco says, have also allowed him to break up classes with both beginner and advanced students combined and separate them into equal groups. That way, he can give each group his undivided attention.
“Increasingly we are moving everything in our Art, Design, and Visual Studies department more toward the concepts embedded in the practices of working in groups and working for community,” Polacco says. “That’s the bread and butter of our department because so much of graphic design has become easier and more accessible.”
APPLY NOW FOR FALL 2021
The idea to incorporate iPads into classroom learning when access to classrooms is limited right now by the pandemic is ideal for the time being. Polacco, in fact, has noticed an uptick in students seeking graphic design as a minor.
“It’s turning into a perfectly viable way of delivering graphic design to our students. That’s a major transformation,” he says. “This year with COVID, it’s one of those things where you either get crushed, and succumb to the pressure or you can innovate and thrive.
“Increasingly we are moving much of our curriculum toward the design concepts and practices embedded in working with and for the community,” Polacco says. “That’s the distinction that we can and must offer while so much of graphic design becomes less about technique and more about problem solving. Being mobile means being agile and responsive to these groups through onsite work and group work ” I’m excited that we will be incorporating mobile into our classrooms and labs well beyond the vaccine and well beyond our return to campus… and the students are too.”
Election Day image (above) created by Emma Hartvickson '24