WILMINGTON — The inaugural class of students in the new Digital Arts and Design program at the Laurel Oaks Career Campus already has a taste of how competitive that field will be if they ultimately decide to pursue it as a career.
The 22 juniors were chosen from more than 50 candidates from the district’s 10 home schools in Clinton, Fayette and Highland Counties.
The job market also promises to be competitive though lucrative. The number of employment opportunities for graphic designers and similar vocations will continue to grow with higher than average starting wages, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but job seekers will also continue to outnumber job openings.
Digital Arts and Design is a two-year program in which students are taught a wide range of technical skills used in today’s print and multi-media markets—graphic design, web development, photography, video and audio production, and basic two-dimensional and three-dimensional animation.
Instructor Brandan Ellars says his students get a head start on their future competition, particularly since they are schooled in fundamentals of design and creativity, two skills that stick out as most important to many employers in the field.
They will learn to use the accepted tools of the trade such as Adobe Creative Cloud that contains programs such as Illustrator, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Flash, InDesign, After Effects, and Premiere Pro.
Students are given the opportunity to validate their Adobe skills by completing the Adobe Certified Associate certification in five different areas. If passed, students separate themselves from their peers and expand their career opportunities, according to Ellars.
“The credentials they could walk out of with in this program could put them maybe two years ahead of incoming college freshman,” Ellars said. “Some may not go to college, but will have employable skills that will allow them to get good jobs in a design center, photo lab or print facility. Others might become artists, art directors or go into marketing or work at an advertising agency.”
Students get to show off their work on an internal television monitor and in other ways. They created the posters for the district’s first “zombie run” this fall and Ellars was handed a poster project for his students during the course of this interview.
“They will get right on this,” Ellars told the student courier.
It is those types of assignments and independent projects that Ellars says attract many of the students to the new program as well as those at the other Great Oaks Career Campuses that have been around a few years.
“Students are always working on projects of their own out of the classroom,” Ellars said. “And we are always looking for projects with the other Laurel programs. We have discussed working on a project with our welding class for them to fabricate signs that my students design.”
One of Ellars’ students pulled him aside after class recently to share some photos he took at a car show. “He knows he wants to be a photographer and he wanted to show me some images he snapped over the weekend that he was editing,” Ellars said. “One in particular could almost be used in an ad as is. That is the neat part of this program in that that they can learn a lot on their own but also have the benefit of my experience and the best equipment and resources.”
Ellars happens to be a professional photographer and taught visual arts at his hometown school in Washington Court House before coming to Laurel Oaks to help start a program he knew would be popular.
“Many of our students have been asking for a program here that allows them to be creative in the visual arts,” said Mike Thomas, dean of the Laurel Oaks Career Campus.
Students also spend time on traditional arts techniques that are not in the digital realm. “We know firms like P&G still want us to encourage students to draw,” Ellars said. “We don’t abandon those traditional skills. We strengthen their drawing and creativity skills through various sketching assignments that are given on a daily basis.”
Ellars has even considered developing an “old school” photo lab for his students so they can get a taste of what it is like to work in the non-digital world of film.
Thomas and Ellars expect to have success stories with these students like recent ones from an established program at Scarlet Oaks Career Campus, a sister school.
“One student was ready to fail out of his home school,” says Scarlet Oaks instructor Libby Sills. “He came to Scarlet Oaks and found a subject, design, he was passionate about; turned his grades around, and graduated at the top of the entire Scarlet class. He received a scholarship to UC-Blue Ash and started studying electronic media.
“Another student took as many of the dual credit classes offered at Scarlet as possible and became certified in Photoshop and Flash. She started Kent State with 19 credit hours.”
Like many programs in the Great Oaks’ system, students are members of educational organizations, which sponsor competitions that enhance their learning experience.
Digital Arts and Design students also take field trips to museums, art institutes, design firms and businesses, some of which will provide the students with job shadowing and intern opportunities.
“We are definitely looking to connect with business and industry in the area,” Ellars said. “We are working on creating a committee that will meet a couple of times a year to discuss curriculum to make sure I am teaching what is needed out in the work place.”
To watch an informative, brief video on the program, go to www.greatoaks.com/digitalarts. You can also contact Laurel Oaks Career Specialist Bill Davis at 937-655-5407.
Great Oaks, which specializes in career development and technical training for high school students and adults in southwest Ohio, has campuses in Wilmington (Laurel Oaks), Sharonville (Scarlet Oaks), Dent (Diamond Oaks) and Milford (Live Oaks).
Great Oaks offers the chance for high school students to prepare for careers and college and for adults to get training and certification to begin a new career or advance in a current career.