CCA Alumni Emerge as Department Chairs

Lynn Sondag in her studioView slideshow 

For most students, graduation marks the end of their academic career. But for some California College of the Arts alumni, graduation was only the beginning. Many have become educators in their chosen field, and a select few serve in chair and director positions at educational institutions across the country and around the world.

CCA and Beyond

While some alumni chairs have stayed within the walls of CCA, such as Illustration interim chair Alexis Mahrus (Illustration1998), others have ventured to colleges beyond the Bay Area.

All report their time at CCA greatly influenced their decision to pursue a career in education.

“I had incredible instructors during my years at CCAC,” says Charles Cohan (Printmaking1985), current chair of the printmaking program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Cohan can name many teachers who brought great knowledge and wisdom, a diversity of approaches and technical avenues, eccentric visual practices, and thoughtful insights to the studio and classroom.

“They were all fantastic, and definitely contributed to my direction toward teaching.”

CCA's Lasting Lessons

Rama Chorpash (Industrial Design 1993), director of product design and associate professor at Parsons, the New School for Design, cites his CCA education as a major influence on his approach to education. “CCA’s process-based learning and open-ended inquiry has shaped not only my approach to design, but also how I advance teaching.”

Chorpash, who recently presented at the Industrial Designers Society of America international educators conference, says that CCA has cultivated forward-thinking pedagogy for generations.

Curtis Steele (Graphic Design 1974), chair of the department of art at Arkansas State University, also says that his CCA education informed his career as an art educator. “It’s OK to fail if you have put your best effort into producing art/design, as long as you learn from your failures.

"Concept, innovation, and craft are ideals I learned at CCA, and all inform my approach in the classroom and studio.”

Kelly Malec-Kosak (MFA 1996), chair of fine arts at Columbus College of Art and Design, says, “CCA taught me discipline and flexibility. My teachers taught me how to think, how to question. I try to take these characteristics into both the classroom and the administrative part of my job.”

Impact on Education

Department chairs play a vital role in shaping the curriculum of their programs. Their many responsibilities include taking part in program development, course scheduling, and recruiting and retaining faculty.

Chorpash notes that as a director, about half of his time is spent addressing administrative tasks, but that his position also “provides a significant opportunity to play a leadership role in shaping vibrant programs, both new and established, in product design and related genres.”

A Rewarding Endeavor

It can be frustrating for some educators to work behind the scenes in administration, but, as Malec-Kosak reflects, “While I love being in the classroom, my responsibilities as chair affect more people (faculty, staff, and students) in a broader sense. I’m lucky to work with my dean on curriculum development, programming, and facilities development.

"It is so rewarding to bring change in these areas and positively impact the experience of those who work at and attend Columbus College of Art and Design.”

For Lynn Sondag (MFA 1997), department chair of art, art history, and design at Dominican University of California, her students are a large part of what makes her work so rewarding. “Most of my students are experiencing exciting, pivotal transitions and new possibilities. The fact that I can introduce the creative process into this experience feels very rewarding.”

Continuing Education

In addition to making a difference in students’ lives, Sondag feels that one great reward of being an educator is remaining a part of the academic environment. “I have such wide access to our ever-changing world. Each day I have the opportunity to encounter a new experience, whether novel or intense, where I feel growth and expansion.”

Sondag also still makes use of her resources as a CCA alumna. “Even though I graduated in 1997, I feel my CCA education still continues.”

“Education can be life-changing,” concludes Chorpash. “It was for me. Success is really a decision, and a human right. There are enough stars for us all.”

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