Visual Revolution: Island University Graphic Design Program Boosts Corpus Christi Creative Scene

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Through its versatility and artistic expression, graphic design can serve as a catalyst for community engagement, creativity, and cultural enrichment. With a focus on visual communication, graphic design fosters an environment where art flourishes, artists thrive, connections are made, and a community becomes a vibrant hub of creative expression.

The Graphic Design program at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi has made a lasting impression on the community with various projects aimed at building awareness of the profession while showcasing the transformative impact of engaging vibrant design.

The program has experienced great growth since it first launched in 2016, said Nancy Miller,
TAMU-CC Associate Professor of Graphic Design and Program Coordinator.

“The program now has almost 100 declared graphic design majors and five faculty,” Miller said. “Each spring, as many as 18 graphic design majors walk the stage, and over 85 percent of graduates find gainful employment in the creative field within three months of graduation.”

Beyond the intimate studio format of instruction, service learning is an integral part of the student experience. Miller says working with nonprofits and community partners is a win-win for both students and the organizations.

“Service-learning projects allow students to practice agility in responding to client feedback, project parameters, and limitations,” Miller said. “Often these organizations have little to no budget to support awareness for their worthy causes. Our students help these organizations by elevating their public profile while they learn to navigate the dynamics of stakeholder relations.”

A key requirement for graduation is an internship that Miller said often leads to part- and full-time employment opportunities. For Kylie Marchitello ’23, her internship at Visit Corpus Christi resulted in a full-time job offer just one month after her graduation as a user interface (UI)/user experience (EX) designer — an exciting role that challenges her to see the company’s website and products through the eyes of a consumer.

“As an intern, I was able to explore a lot of things that I probably wouldn’t have been able to experience in other internships — like retail, web, and social — all different things that helped shape my role as a designer,” Marchitello said.

Graphic design students have proudly played a substantial role in the revitalization of Downtown Corpus Christi. Islander students created new branding materials including a logo and website to support the renovation efforts of the historic Ritz Theatre. The objective was to highlight the theater’s rich history and untapped potential, encourage donor contributions, and raise awareness of the ongoing restoration project.

The program also stepped up to the plate at Whataburger Field by designing two large interactive murals with augmented reality Instagram filter activations. With the snap of a cell phone, the murals come to life, elevating the Corpus Christi Hooks fan experience.

“Offering an experience such as this is monumental in terms of being ahead of the curve when it comes to the ever-changing world of social media and even staying relevant in current times,” said Dustin Fishman, Corpus Christi Hooks Marketing Manager.

Students have also taken part in various First Friday ArtWalk projects in Downtown Corpus Christi and have exhibited their work on the side of the university’s downtown building.

Other internship work includes merchandise designs and social media graphics for the Texas State Aquarium Wildlife Rescue Center and executing a comprehensive marketing overhaul for the Port Aransas Art Center following the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

Of all the community-based activities that graphic design students are involved in, ONE DAY is undoubtedly the longest-running. The annual service event, which began in 2014, pairs a local nonprofit with a team of volunteer creatives, including TAMU-CC students, alumni, and working professions, who create a no-cost marketing campaign over the course of a single Saturday. Campaign deliverables are then implemented via advertising placement with the support of the American Advertising Federation-Corpus Christi chapter.

Through the generosity of the Frazier Family Foundation, the graphic design program also hosts Camp DPI, an intensive two-week summer camp that aims to provide mentorship and access to design for qualifying high school juniors with little to no graphic-design experience.

One such camper is Dice Martinez, a junior from KIPP University Prep High School in San Antonio. Martinez said she enjoyed working on creating artwork for music albums during the camp.

“I really liked how we were able to combine both elements of photography and illustration with music,” Martinez said. “This experience means everything because if I do follow through with college, I would be the first in my family to graduate. Being here and being able to see the campus and experience the tight schedule that we’re on really means a great deal to me.”

Also, this last summer, more than two dozen graphic design majors participated in a study abroad trip to Mexico City to explore the city’s iconic works of art, architecture, and culture. The six-credit hour experience introduced students to the fundamental principles of Risograph printing and digital illustration. “Sights & Sounds,” a travel poster exhibition from the students who participated in the Mexico City Study Abroad program took place in September at the Frazier Foundation Gallery in The Chamberlain in downtown Corpus Christi.

Graphic design major Jared Rios ’24 said he enjoyed the opportunity to explore the culture and history of the country where his grandparents came from.

“I had never been outside of the U.S. before and I was unsure how design could vary drastically, but I was pleased to learn how culture affects design,” Rios said. “Patterns and colors fill the streets of Mexico City. Designs on everyday things have a unique pattern that dates to the history of the city.”

The program’s growing reputation has helped it earn several notable accolades. In 2019, listed the program as No. 7 in the Top 10 Graphic Design School Programs in Texas; the program jumped two spots to No. 5 in 2022. In addition, it was ranked No. 7 in the Top 10 Graphic Design Programs in Texas by The Art Career Project in 2022 and No. 8 on the 2021 list of the Best 15 Graphic Design Schools in Texas by Animation Career Review. Beyond program awards, TAMU-CC graphic design students have won over 300 regional, national, and international awards since the program’s inception.