Communication Arts and Design prepares graduates for the future of communication

Alumni Tessa Wells, Hannah Trimble, and Savannah Rees-Trask share their experiences in the different branches of the major

The world around us is in constant flux, and that includes the ways we communicate with one another. At Lees-McRae, faculty in the Communication Arts and Design program are working to prepare students for the future of communication, art, and design through three unique specializations: Creative Marketing, Studio Art, and Communication Arts.

Creative Marketing ties together communication arts and modern business practices, resulting in an academic pathway that is perfect for students who have goals of working in advertising or owning their own small business. Studio Arts, on the other hand, places a greater emphasis on developing students’ knowledge of classical artistic techniques. Here traditional “fine art” skills are combined with new media, giving students interested in visual arts a bridge between traditional and evolving mediums. As a kind of combination of the other two specializations, Communication Arts is broader, pulling from both Creative Marketing and Studio Arts. On this path students explore studio art, digital design, professional writing, and video production, giving them a wealth of experience in preparation for a variety of media and communication-related career paths.

“I knew going into college that I wanted to major in art, but it wasn’t until sophomore year that I switched to a concentration in Studio Art,” Communication Arts and Design and Wildlife Biology double-major Tessa Wells ’23 said. Wells began in the Communication Arts specialization, but as she developed her artistic voice and came to better understand her post-graduate goals, she made the transition to specialize in Studio Art. “I wanted to gain experience with both traditional and digital media, stay away from the marketing and business path, focus primarily on the ‘fine arts,’ and later combine it with my Wildlife Biology degree.”

Wells’ degrees set her on the perfect path to achieve her career goals. She is currently working toward a graduate certificate in scientific illustration at California State University Monterey Bay, where she is part of a cohort of like-minded students who share passions for the arts and the natural world.

Wells observes a bird during one of her courses in the Scientific Illustration program at California State University Monterey Bay.
In addition to in-class learning, Wells' curriculum in the Scientific Illustration program involves plenty of field work.

“The variety of classes within the Studio Arts concentration prepared me to be successful in my chosen field of scientific illustration. Being able to get experience in a variety of media pushed me to think creatively and pushed my artistic abilities in ways I wouldn’t be able to if I was practicing in just a single medium,” Wells said. “Obviously they’re all very intertwined, but I think the thing that’s specific about the Studio Arts specialization is that it focuses more on your technique and your art and moves away from the idea of making your art marketable to a wider audience. That’s still very important within the art field, but the Studio Art concentration focuses more on just the art.”

Another alumnus who shares Wells’ combined interest for creative pursuits and the natural world is Hannah Trimble ’11, who graduated from Lees-McRae with a degree in an earlier iteration of the Communication Arts and Design program called “Communication Arts,” which now aligns with the specialization of the same name.

Trimble began in the Wildlife Biology program, but she too realized that she was interested in a path that would allow her to explore her creative side. Although she always nursed a personal passion for being creative, the realization that she could build a career out of that passion hit Trimble somewhat unexpectedly. Inspired by three un-releasable turtles who were living at the May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center at the time, Trimble planned, designed, and constructed a permanent sanctuary where the turtles could thrive. Trimble was thoughtful with her design, creating a gazebo-like structure with tall walls and a peaked roof that could be used for birds once the turtles reached the end of their lifespan.

Hannah Trimble ’11 works on the habitat she designed to house a group of un-releasable turtles at the May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.

“I had this moment where I realized I had these skills and passion for design. I thought maybe I could switch to communications and eventually apply my love for design back to wildlife conservation,” Trimble said. “That was a really pivotal moment of making the switch and realizing that my creative side could be applied to things other than my own personal hobby of art.”

Since graduating from Lees-McRae, Trimble has earned a master’s degree in Industrial and Product Design from New York City’s Pratt Institute, gained professional experience in a variety of communications and art-related careers, and most recently served in a role as a Director of Industrial Design. She is now embarking on a new adventure; one that hearkens back to her days at Lees-McRae and reunites the two passions she stoked while here.

“I’m starting my own design studio that will work on conservation projects. I finally get to bring it back full circle,” Trimble said. “The core mission will be about bringing design thinking and product development to conservation challenges. The second part is helping scientists tell stories with their work. That is a lot of the communications and marketing part, bringing awareness to conservation science and challenges through beautiful visual storytelling.”

Savannah Rees-Trask ’18, pursued the Communication Arts specialization under the current program structure, and has focused her skills to lead her down a different path. Originally a Business Administration major with a concentration in Sports Media, Rees-Trask was interested in more of the marketing and media aspects of communications, and ultimately switched to the Communication Arts and Design major after meeting with Professor of Communication Arts and Design Melissa Ball-Martin and coming to better understand her goals.

“I liked the idea of not just being tied down to sports media. Communications has such a broad range, so I ended up switching over to communications my sophomore year. As soon as I took my first class in the major, I was like, ‘this is it, this is what I want to do,’” Rees-Trask said. “I loved that the degree gave me such a broad range of learning. It wasn’t just journalism; it wasn’t just photography. In a day I could be at the art studio, then go to the Mac lab for web design class, then be in the craft room working on a project. It was just so crazy going from different concentrations, and I loved that because it really helped me broaden my knowledge on the subject.”

Since graduating, Rees-Trask has made great use of the broad range of skills she gained throughout her time at Lees-McRae. She has worked in graphic design, social media, marketing, and event planning, eventually leading her to her current role at Our State magazine. She said that each day reminds her of her time at Lees-McRae and how grateful she is for the Communication Arts and Design program because of how often she falls back on the skills and lessons she earned while here.

For Wells, Trimble, and Rees-Trask, the variety of skills and breadth of experiences offered in the Communication Arts and Design program have made all the difference in preparing them to be the most effective and cutting-edge communicators in the ever-evolving worlds of art, design, and media.

“I really didn’t know going into college what I wanted to do. I was one of those kids who played soccer, so I was like, ‘oh, I’ll go into sports management or sports media.’ I just didn’t know,” Rees-Trask said. “Lees-McRae has always and will always feel like home, but especially when you find where you fit, that makes all the difference. In the communications department I just fit, and I feel grateful every day.”

By Maya JarrellDecember 06, 2023