Digital arts instruction evolves over 20-year history at Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK Pa. — Carlos Rosas, professor of digital arts and media design in the School of Visual Arts, came to Penn State in 2001 with hopes of creating a program where students can learn about topics like motion graphics and web design. Soon after, he did just that.

With the goal of offering students a more comprehensive design education, he helped usher in the Interdisciplinary Digital Studio program in 2006. Five years later, it was renamed the Digital Arts and Media Design program.

“It’s a professional degree focusing on digital arts professional practices,” Rosas said. “The goal for many of these students is that they’re going to be entering a digital arts production field.”

The program maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio and is increasingly competitive, according to Rosas. There is an extensive series of DART (Digital Arts) classes in the major, which are taught by eight or nine faculty members, depending on enrollment.

Some of the courses include 3D Digital Art and Design Fundamentals, Creative Coding: Scripting for Art and Design, and a Digital Art and Media Design capstone course, which is taken during a student’s senior year.

One of those courses is a favorite of Sierra Brandon, a fourth-year student in digital arts and media design, who said it was a transformational experience as a College of Arts and Architecture student.

“Creative Research in Digital Arts and Media Design with Eduardo Navas made me think in different ways about art and helped me find my appreciation for video editing,” Brandon said.

Brandon is currently looking at several different companies for junior graphic designer positions but aspires to work for the publishing company Penguin Random House.

Rosas said the program’s home within the College of Arts and Architecture surprises some but leads to more well-rounded and career-ready students.

“We’re actually in the School of Visual Arts, so it’s a huge bonus because we are a design program, but students take painting classes, sculpture classes and ceramics classes,” Rosas said. “They have the same foundation as the artists, which is really unique.”

While the program itself is still relatively young, its alumni are well established in the industry.

Jessica Snyder, a digital arts and media design alumna who graduated in 2022, is working for Mustache Agency in New York City as an animator, video editor and motion graphics designer.

As a “very involved” undergraduate, she helped start the Happy Valley Animation Festival in 2021, an international animation competition held in State College, as well as the Animation Club on campus.

“I worked with Carlos [Rosas] to start the Happy Valley Animation Festival, which now has taken place every year since then, and we hope that it continues on as a tradition for years to come,” Snyder said.

The Happy Valley Animation Festival and the Animation Club are not the only opportunities available to students through the program.

SIGGRAPH is a nationwide networking conference for computer graphics and research. This year was the 50th anniversary, and Penn State’s Digital Media Group was able to attend in Los Angeles, California.

“The dean of the College of Arts and Architecture, B. Stephen Carpenter II, as well as the director of the School of Visual Arts, Vagner Mendonça-Whitehead, helped immensely in our efforts to receive additional funding for the SIGGRAPH trip,” Brandon said.

According to Brandon, the Digital Arts Media Group is an organization focused on professional development and community building for students not only within the digital arts and media design major but also outside of it.

The opportunities for Digital Arts and Media Design program students are abundant, Snyder said, which ultimately made choosing Penn State a great decision.

“I really value my time at Penn State, and I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Snyder said. “I have met so many people that have impacted the trajectory of my career.”

To learn more about the Digital Arts and Media Design program, visit the program’s web page. 

The College of Arts and Architecture is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2023-24. This story is part of a series highlighting people, places and events in the college’s six-decade history.

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