Just because a program is small, that doesn’t mean that it cannot achieve great things, and in an increasingly digital world, the need for skilled digital communicators focused on user experience is more apparent than ever.

The graphic design program in the School of Visual Arts (SOVA) under the College of Architecture and Urban Studies (CAUS) at Virginia Tech is uniquely suited to fostering and training the next generation of designers to meet those needs.

One thing that really makes the graphic design program stand out is the student-run, faculty-led Graphic Design Center, FourDesign. FourDesign works to bring in real-world clients with graphic design needs so that students have hands-on opportunities to interact with clients and to learn from that process. Associate Professor of Practice Jeff Joiner serves as faculty director for the center and brings his over 20 years of industry knowledge into the studio.

Director Jeff Joiner leads students in their work with FourDesign.

Students and Director, Jeff Joiner, at work in FourDesign - the student-run, faculty-led graphic design agency on campus.
Students and Director Jeff Joiner at work in FourDesign, a student-run, faculty-led graphic design agency on campus.

Meaghan Dee, an associate professor and the chair of the graphic design program, said students “are able to have real client experiences while they are still in the program, all from the safety of the classroom.”

Fitting in nicely with the overall culture of CAUS, the graphic design program is a close community where the faculty and students all know each other and are on a first-name basis from the outset. Dee said, “we only have about 20 students per year that go through the program, so at any given time, we always have under 100 students total.”

Despite the relatively small size of the program, it has been able to achieve great things and is consistently ranked among the best graphic design programs in the country. Dee believes this is due, in large part, to the overall culture of Virginia Tech and the benefits of being a small program that is part of such a large and technologically advanced university. “We get access to a lot of the resources that Virginia Tech has to offer," said Dee. "Our students regularly use laser cutters, 3D printers, and other cutting-edge technology. That, mixed with our close-knit studio space, allows our students to flourish and grow as artists.”

Since 2017, the graphic design program has made the Graphic Design USA “Top Design Schools” list, which is a “business-to-business information source for graphic design professionals.” Dee has been named an “Educator to Watch,” and for the past four years the graphic design program has had several students featured in their “Students to Watch” issue each year.

This past year, the program had two students featured as Students to Watch, Megan Monroe and Charlotte Cannon.

Charlotte Cannon poses for her feature in Graphic Design USA's Students To Watch issue.

Charlotte Canon poses for her feature in Graphic Design USA's Students To Watch issue.
Charlotte Cannon poses for her feature in Graphic Design USA's Students To Watch issue.

Megan Monroe poses for her feature in Graphic Design USA's Students To Watch issue.

Megan Monroe poses for her feature in Graphic Design USA's Students To Watch issue.
Megan Monroe poses for her feature in Graphic Design USA's Students To Watch issue.

Cannon self-describes as a true Blacksburg townie, having lived in the area for 23 years. After graduating with a B.F.A. in graphic design as well as a B.A. in cello performance, she recently started a new position at WillowTree Apps in Charlottesville as a product designer. She credits her success directly to the program, saying, “I can honestly say that the faculty and design program at Virginia Tech are some of the absolute best. I truly feel that I could not have had the same valuable experiences and opportunities had I been anywhere else.”

Megan Monroe is a Virginia Beach native who originally came to Virginia Tech as an undecided major. Following her freshman year, Monroe was introduced to the graphic design program and was accepted her sophomore year. Looking back at that process, Monroe said, “It was probably the best decision I’ve ever made. My favorite thing about Virginia Tech’s design program is easily the faculty – it’s a really small program, so every student has the opportunity to get to know the professors really well. They make the program what it is and I consider myself extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to learn from them and to get to know them personally.”

Monroe credits her inclusion on the Students to Watch list to hard work and passion that she was able to hone during her time at Virginia Tech. “I think if you’re genuinely passionate about something and put your all into what you do, eventually you will succeed.” After graduation, Monroe will be attending the Brandcenter at VCU to get her master’s in advertising with a concentration in experience design.

In addition to the rankings consistently achieved for Graphic Design USA, the design program at Virginia Tech has also been ranked number 18 nationally by the Graphic Design Degree Hub, as well as number 16 nationally in Niche.com’s 2017 Best Graphic Design Programs.

The design program has also recently won a number of awards at the local level of the American Advertising Awards (ADDYs) that are put on by the American Advertising Federation (AAF). Those winners move on to the regional stage where they can then qualify for nationals. Professors Dee and Patrick Finley and several of their students were also featured in the most recent international Indigo Design Awards and in the United Design Alliance competitions.

"I just finished my 10th year at Virginia Tech, and I'm incredibly proud of all that our program has achieved during that time," Dee said. "We've created a welcoming and inclusive community that emphasizes design thinking, making, research, and core values. One of my greatest joys has been observing our students develop and thrive during their time in our program. We've also been growing a phenomenal alumni network, and we always love when former students come back as guest lecturers or offer studio tours (or internships) to current Hokies. We hope to continue building these relationships and expanding our community, and I am looking forward to seeing where our program goes next."

-Written by Michael Capocelli

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