YSU Graphic Design Students Eliminate Art Degree Stigma – Business Journal Daily

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — It’s fair to assume that art-related careers are rare in a manufacturing-centric region like the Mahoning Valley.

But Michelle Nelson, professor of graphic and interactive design at Youngstown State University, says otherwise.

“Graphic design is all about gauging who you’re trying to connect with and getting them noticed. Every business needs it,” Nelson says.

Graphic design is an integral part of every business in every industry. From company logos to road signs, graphic design is part of everyday life, even if not everyone recognizes it.

“People don’t really know that term: graphic design,” Nelson says. “It’s funny because you need a graphic designer to design a dictionary but last time I checked graphic design isn’t in the dictionary.”

Nelson is one of five faculty members in YSU’s Graphic and Interactive Design program, which has 115 students and an even longer list of successful alumni.

Jenna Byler, who graduated in 2011, is now design director at Millwood Inc. in Vienna. Byler started as a graphic designer for the company 10 years ago and worked his way up. As principal, she decided to call an old friend to see if there were any YSU students ready and willing to join her team and take on some of her workload.

“I contacted Michelle [Nelson] to see if she knew anyone. She thought she had the perfect person in mind and so far she hasn’t been wrong,” Byler said in reference to Evan Von Thaer, another YSU graphic design grad.

Von Thaer joined his team two years ago as a graphic designer and Byler says he is a talented designer and a major asset to the company.

Byler says she wanted a YSU graduate on her team because of the respect she has for the graphic design program.

“I have so much respect for them. I really appreciated their input. And I knew I would appreciate Michelle’s input,” Byler says.

Byler says she didn’t have to search much when she started her job search, as there are plenty of career opportunities in the field for designers. Every business needs graphic design to some degree, she says.


While trying to move up the career ladder to take up a full-time role in his job as a corporate graphic designer, Abraham Perez hit a snag. “One of the biggest obstacles I faced was not having a degree,” says Perez.

Abraham Perez holds his project, an infographic on how to hitch a trailer.

He falls under the umbrella of Non-Traditional Students at YSU where he pursues studies in Graphic and Interactive Design. He attended community college in his home state of Texas, but changed tracks after successfully auditioning for Disney World.

Perez played at the park for nearly a decade as Winnie the Pooh, King Louie and Chip and Dale before leaving the Sunshine State for Girard after meeting her husband.

Perez already tried Photoshop in college and decided to enter the world of design. He worked with a startup and got absorbed into a bigger company. A larger company then absorbed it before hitting a wall while working for Nissan. He worked part-time for the company, but its “corporate culture means that you have to have a bachelor’s degree to be hired full-time,” he says.

Determined to achieve a personal goal and land a steady job, Perez enrolled at YSU to complete his education. As a sophomore, Perez has a few years to go before deciding the age-old question: stay or find a job elsewhere. However, he is convinced that he will find a job that will allow him to stay in the region.

“The company is probably not going to be here. All of my positions were remote,” says Perez.

The population of the Youngstown area continues to decline, according to the 2020 census, adding to decades of massive population loss. The drop could suggest that young adults are choosing jobs elsewhere. But the recent shift to remote work in some industries could keep the younger generation in the Mahoning Valley.

Avery Sandy, a sophomore from Poland Village, says he could take advantage of the remote work options available to graphic designers, but he’s enjoying the experience of leaving his hometown. “I think I’d rather go get some experience and get going.”

Sandy wants to work in the music industry and design posters, merchandise and promotional materials for artists.

Sandy already has 75 international clients. He says, “more and more businesses are coming up and they can’t get started without charts. There will always be a need for it. »


Many students find themselves under pressure from their families when choosing their major, especially those with an interest in art, however practical that may actually be. Nelson was told to get a secretarial degree when she announced her intention to go into graphic design over 30 years ago; today she is a full-time teacher and has designed her own typeface.

Nelson believes that stigma stems from a lack of understanding. She says parents are often skeptical of the field when their children show interest.

She says many students who have completed the program are now working for big companies, including Disney, Sherwin Williams and major airlines. While many seek jobs at national and international companies, she says many get regional and local jobs.

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 204,040 people were employed as graphic designers in May 2021. Ohio reported 7,910 graphic designers, putting it among the top-ranked states. Specialized design services is the industry with the highest concentration of graphic designers, followed by advertising and public relations, according to BLS data.

There is a high demand for graduates, Nelson says, even more so due to the pandemic. She says YSU often receives requests for recommendations from companies interested in filling design positions.

“We ended up putting the students who are earlier in their [education] in internships because we have so many requests,” says Nelson.

Internships are a great entry into the job market and many interns are kept until they graduate, she says. The internship class typically has 12 students per year, but many more students are on internship without class credit.

The Graphic and Interactive Design program proves well-rounded employees with skills in design, illustration, and photography. Students take everything from typography 1 to logo and branding.

“Our students leave here being really competent illustrators, photographers, and designers because we filter all of that through the program,” Nelson explains.

Top of the photo: Michelle Nelson stands next to the typeface she created: Modern Poise.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.

Kayleen C. Rice