On Making Collaborative Connections on Campus
Maria Rogal is Associate Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Florida and was the recipient of the inaugural 2008 AIGA Design Faculty Research Grant. She’s had many successful interactions and collaborations with colleagues at UF—an R-1 land-grant university—and with colleagues at other universities and NGOs. She’s kindly shared some personal experiences as well as provided some suggestion for educators interested in making connections for collaborative work on their campuses:
Explain what you do to your colleagues in your department and beyond. Most people generally have a sense of what design is, but that may be far different than what you actually do. Make sure you convey the type of design you do to friends, colleagues, and staff so they can advocate for you. Ask your colleagues and connections to keep an eye open (Senior faculty often know people on campus and other institutions and usually want to help).
Networks. Networks have been critical to establishing connections and I have seen how important cultural capital can be. Who introduces you speaks volumes about you when you enter a conversation. All of my collaborations in Mexico followed this networking route and it has made the work possible, where otherwise it would not have been.
Ways to meet people:
Find like interdisciplinary communities. We have a few centers at the University of Florida (Latin American, African, European, Sustainability) where the community members are spread across disciplines. This has been very useful for my research. Years ago I became an Affiliate Faculty member in Latin American Studies. Because I chose to become involved and participate, I met people with common interests but different skill sets. I served on their advisory board as a voice for arts and design, served on conference committees, presented papers at conferences, joined a rewarding grant-funded working group, and have been able to enrich my research in unexpected ways. The Center has also funded conference travel and an innovative design project resulting in a publication.
UF also has some faculty working groups—such as Digital Humanities—that bring people from disciplines together to discuss common themes and collaborations may come from that.
Be visible. Have a web presence so people can find you and learn about what you’re doing. Sometimes people contact me for events where I can showcase my work. I rarely say “No” to the opportunity to be in front of my colleagues. In the academic world it raises the profile of design (and the arts) and it provides people with a broader understanding of what we do. I have made many connections this way.
Faculty socials, art openings, campus social events (if we’re prepared to talk about our work)
In the academy, many of us will face the challenge of being thought of as the people who ‘make things look pretty.’ This stems from the many misconceptions about design and also, I believe, because we do not hold PhD’s or research degrees. Certainly not all our colleagues think like this, but we have to be aware of red flags where we might be exploited and end up doing work for minimal credit. We all have to have criteria for what makes collaborations worthwhile and criteria for when to diplomatically back away.
Maria Rogal is Associate Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Florida, where she has taught since 1997. Her work focuses on the relationship between culture and design and how we can leverage the potential of design to positively shape the human experience. Professor Rogal expanded on earlier design research in Mexico by creating the Design for Development (D4D) initiative in which students and faculty work with artisans, farmers, and organizers in Maya communities to explore ways design processes and products, and designers, can foster local development projects.