CCA Alumni and Nike Career Success: How Did They Do It?

With revenue in excess of $24 billion and having more than 44,000 employees worldwide, Nike Inc. is one of the world's largest suppliers of athletic shoes and apparel and a major manufacturer of sports equipment.

For those California College of the Arts alumni who went to work at Nike, they describe their careers as innovative, creative, and truly rewarding.

CCA Prepares Alumni to "Just Do It"

CCA's alumni at Nike attribute their successful careers to their CCA education.

According to Industrial Design chair Sandrine Lebas: "The college offers courses that delve into soft goods and wearables, technology and user interface, crafts and making, and even bike-frame design and building; all with an emphasis on user-centric research, sustainability, market context, and entrepreneurship."

Interdisciplinary Curriculum a Good Fit with Nike

Lebas adds: "In our program we encourage students to develop their own design voice, but also enrich the mastery of their field by leveraging the collaborative offering of cross-listed courses and electives.

"With all design, craft, and fine arts disciplines represented across the college, students leave CCA not only with a strong design foundation but also with an appetite for exploration and innovation."

Location Is Everything

Lebas also acknowledges the intrinsic value CCA offers students in terms of our physical proximity to -- and networking opportunities with -- the technology heavy-hitters.

"Our location, centric to the Bay Area and West Coast, provides internship opportunities and valuable professional workshops with leading design firms such as Timbuk2, CamelBak, A-Lite, GoogleX, Intel, Motorola, and Nike."

CCA Alumni Who Stepped into Careers at Nike

Tory Cross

BFA Industrial Design 2002

Tory Cross is a lead Innovator at Nike in its Innovation Kitchen, a group tasked with exploring future opportunities, testing them for performance, ensuring they can be manufactured, and ultimately changing the marketplace.

"CCA prepared me by providing working ID professionals who could expose me to their thought processes and offer insights from their work experiences. The studio projects were very open and broad, allowing me to be entrepreneurial and let the work expand as fast as I could feed it.

"The technical skills I gained were ahead of the curve, with 3D modeling and intensive shop classes, and provided a solid foundation for my first position."


"I was most inspired by my classmates. We had a very competitive group, and it helped to push me to be a better designer.

"I was very inspired by Jay Baldwin, with his stories of building domes and living machines and workshops on wheels. His sustainability class was very influential as he taught about 'whole system' thinking, which is only still coming into common use."

about my career

"I have the best job in the world. I get to meet amazing athletes, and they ask me to help make them better. I have an amazing brand behind me that can make anything happen, so I'm able to push the limits of what's possible.

"I work with the smartest and most experienced people in the industry, so I am constantly learning and always being challenged." 

Timothy Perks

BArch 1991

Tim Perks is Nike's senior director of retail design for North America. He oversees the entire wholesale marketplace for the United States and Canada.

"CCA was an amazing experience and preparation for my career. It afforded me the opportunity to study different things beyond just architecture, including graphic design and furniture, which play into the things I do everyday."

about my career

"Nike is a very dynamic place that keeps you on your toes. What I work on from a day-to-day basis can change at any time. That's what's amazing about architecture and design, you never stop learning."


"So many people had an impact on me during my time at CCA, especially David Meckel, Jim Jennings, and noted faculty member Michael Manwaring."

Katherine Tisch

BFA Graphic Design 1989

Katy Tisch recently was promoted to vice president of the Center of Design Excellence overseeing strategy, budget, organizational design, talent development, and operations and process (650 designers).

"CCA was great for me because of the practical training -- in school and through working for several of my teachers. The teachers were all working professionals with thriving practices. It was easy to get my career started while enrolled. . . . and the concept work we did is still with me."


"Michael Vanderbyl had no limits to what he would apply his creativity to -- 2D, 3D, furniture . . . whatever. I loved the joy he exuded when he was excited about his work. Michael Mabry also really inspired me."

About My Career

"I love the complexity of my current position and the ability to impact the creative lives of so many designers. Nike has been great for me -- I have had so many opportunities with global scope -- Europe and Asia -- and I love giving those opportunities to the new team."

Haley Toelle

BFA Industrial Design 2012

Haley Toelle interned at Nike’s Innovation Kitchen.

“Being at Nike really confirmed my hands-on approach as well as pushed me to think not just about designing products but designing everything from the user experience to entirely new processes for production.”

about my career

“I’ve been getting a taste of everything and I think as long as there’s opportunity for me to grow, learn new things, and have something to offer, then I’ll be happy.”

Jeff Wertz

BFA Illustration 1992

Jeff Wertz is a design studio director who supports Nike's t-shirt and headwear product graphic design team. He focuses on "people and process."

"My degree in Illustration . . . set me on the path to where I am today. I was hired at Nike in 1993 as a graphic designer for tees, and I was primarily doing illustration in combination with typography.

"I am perhaps most famous for one specific tee. It was designed around 1996, and is called the Hangtag Swoosh Tee. It has sold a gazillion units and is still in production. If I had a penny for every tee . . ."

About my career

"I get to work with a great team of designers every day in a beautiful environment. My most satisfying experiences are working with and mentoring design directors and other studio managers. I love being able to foster people's careers."


"I had a wonderful life-drawing teacher, Richard Gayton. He challenged me to look at things differently, and helped me hone my drawing skills.

Ann Schwiebinger-Mayer

BFA Graphic Design 1981

Ann Schwiebinger-Mayer worked as a designer and senior designer at Nike for more than 12 years, working on everything from the seasonal consumer and sales campaigns to art directing and managing the seasonal image photography photo shoots around the world. She also designed and art directed six Nike annual reports.

"I remember many long, sleepless nights preparing for early morning critiques, but I came away with a wonderful education -- an extremely professional portfolio and the invaluable experience of working as an intern.

"Years later, as a designer at Nike, I always knew when students from CCA came in to show their portfolio, they had the best-possible education and experience."

About my career

“Making art that matters . . . I have always believed in making art that matters as a designer at Nike, and in everything I’ve done since. It’s a spirit that stays with you.

"I am currently the designer in a small business, called Animalia Design, where our focus is on spreading the message of animal conservation around the world.

"Today, I am a passionate advocate for the importance of an arts education for all young people as well as a teaching artist for children of all ages in art classes, preschools, and art summer camps."


"Steve Reoutt -- so challenging, but I loved every minute of his classes. Michael Vanderbyl, too. It just doesn’t get any better than learning from one of the best designers in the field. He challenged us everyday to go above and beyond what we thought we could do. My work in those classes truly made me the designer I am today."


Editor's note: Regretfully, Jessica Davis (BFA Graphic Design 2002) was unable to contribute due to her demanding work schedule.

Know of other CCA tie-ins to Nike? Send info to web editor Jim Norrena.