Better by Design

From Features & Blogs

Better by DesignSchreiner University recognized three signature programs in 2009—business, graphic design and life sciences—whose strength and value to students distinguish Schreiner among its peer institutions. Graphic design is the largest program on campus in terms of majors and graduates, and it was the first named signature program.

“What differentiates graphic design from other programs is that students work with actual clients,” said Dr. David Smith, professor of graphic design and dean of the Cailloux School of Professional Studies at Schreiner.

“We started out with mostly local clients and expanded to the rest of the Hill Country. Today, technology allows us to reach out to the rest of the U.S. We transfer files and share screens over Skype.” (Skype is an application that allows chat, file sharing and video conferencing over the Internet.)

Schreiner design students have created graphics for World Hope International’s “Hope in a Bag” initiative and developed a print ad campaign in an industry magazine for Airwave Networks Inc.

Smith said that one of the first things students learn when working with real-world clients is “it’s not about them. It’s about using their talents to help the client communicate a specific message better. We tell students that what they are creating is not art. They are creative designers, not artists, and what they create are communication solutions.

“Any kind of design is about communication,” he added, “interior design, fashion, graphic design—it’s all about intentionality. Good design works universally. You have to have a broad approach to be successful.”

Students often track two to four clients at a time, which gives them an introduction to the kinds of stress they will have to handle in their professional lives and teaches valuable time management skills.

“Our design classes model a working design studio as far as possible,” Smith said. “Real clients come into the classroom. Students role-play as creative directors, junior and senior designers. They hold concept meetings and produce sketches to show the clients. People are held accountable for the quality and timeliness of their production.”

Design majors have excellent opportunities to become familiar with the more technical aspects of their future profession—such as software and other tools—as well as more specifically business-related skills, such as listening to and working with clients, and managing schedules and deadlines.

In addition, the program emphasizes personal skills, such as being comfortable around different people and cultures, dressing appropriately and presenting ideas clearly. Students can participate in U.S. and international trips, local and national internships, and job networking for graduates.

“We worked on building up the program’s reputation regionally,” Smith said, “and that’s starting to work for us. We now have grads hiring grads.”

Of course, the quality of the students themselves is a major factor in the program’s success.

“We’re always looking for four or five exceptionally talented students, students with great potential,” Smith said. “Then we surround them with the best students we can.”

One way talented students are identified is through the Annual Hill Country Art Survey, sponsored by Schreiner and the graphic design department, which features the best art from local schools. Smith said he also is proactive in networking with art teachers.

“What we’re all about,” Smith said, “is providing our students with opportunities, taking them out into the world and helping them build confidence. Our students leave here with professional portfolios and we want them to have a smooth transition to the world of work. When they walk away from campus and into a job, we don’t want it to be a shock for them. We want what’s best for our students—and what’s best for the students is best for the program and best for Schreiner.”

Life Sciences

Even before Schreiner started thinking in terms of signature programs, the University’s medical pre-professional programs had an enviable reputation for successfully sending students on to medical schools and further training. Almost 100 percent of the Schreiner students who apply to medical school are accepted, compared with a state average of 38 percent.

Most of those students were biology or biochemistry majors, two disciplines that now fall under the Life Sciences signature program, as does Schreiner’s new Bachelor of Science degree in nursing.

The arrival of Dr. Chris Distel, assistant professor of biology, in 2010 brought an emphasis on field biology, the environmental (organismal) track within biology, a discipline that also includes a cellular or cell molecular track.

“Field biology is the study of organisms as they interact in natural systems,” said Dr. Diana Comuzzie, professor of biology and dean of the Trull School of Sciences & Mathematics. “The emphasis is not on the cell, but on the whole organism—it’s more complex, a big picture.”

“Field biology is an understanding of life as it works in the environmental sense, with an emphasis on science,” Dr. Distel added. “It’s particularly important because most people are not environmentally aware and we wanted to provide our students majoring in biology with a directed field of study other than pre-professional.”

On a practical level, field biology is pretty much just what it says: biology out in the field. In this case the field is the rich and complex ecological community, or biome, of the Texas Hill Country.

“The Hill Country is a unique biome,” Comuzzie said. “Our location offers us great opportunities for study, which is one reason we are developing the field biology program. We have a history of organized research and field biology was an area in which we knew we could build strength.”

Field biology students do their work both in and out of the classroom, and it’s not all catching tadpoles or analyzing water from the Guadalupe. In the spring, Dr. Distel and nine of his students developed a curriculum for The Riverside Nature Center in Kerrville. The center wanted to expand its popular Junior Naturalists program for students in grades K-3 with a program for 4th and 5th graders. In addition to designing the curriculum, the students, along with Dr. Distel, will also be teaching the classes.

“This is the beginning of a long-term educational relationship that we intend to maintain with The Riverside Nature Center,” Distel said.

In conjunction with the Texas Water Symposium meeting at Schreiner each spring, Distel and his students provided hands-on workshops for local high school students.

Distel also heads up laboratory research with students, including a project on armored catfish, an invasive species, investigating whether they are detrimental to local amphibians. The field biology program has three ongoing research projects that involve faculty and students and Distel plans to add two more this year.

“Chris has great ideas,” Comuzzie said. “He comes up with brilliant ideas and he’s very excited about his students. The field biology program is innovative and attractive to students. It’s just cool.”

Integrity Ambassadors in Business

The Integrity Ambassadors in Business program, which began in 2010, is an integrated approach to exploring ethics that potentially impacts more than 400 students annually. Dr. Charles Torti, associate professor of business, conceived of the IAB program. After Torti’s departure Dr. Charles Salter, associate professor of business, now heads the program.

“Our program is unique because students do not merely study ethics as a stand-alone course,” Torti said in 2010. “Instead, IAB is a four-year program that is integrated into seven courses that are common to all business majors.”

Those taking courses in accounting, business, finance, information systems management and marketing learn through a series of online simulation games, threaded discussions, formal lectures, ethics debates and other class projects that integrity and achieving a solid bottom line are complementary and not conflicting.

“Integrity is the congruence of your thoughts, words and actions in daily application of business and societal values,” Torti said. “We want students to realize that integrity and achieving business goals are complementary. This program is really about developing students into better decision makers.”

The IAB program uses an assessment tool to help students understand their own ethical viewpoints, and introduces them to four ethical perspectives traditional to Western culture through the philosophers who espoused them: rights and responsibilities (Immanuel Kant), results (John Stuart Mill), relationships (John Rawls) and virtue ethics (Alasdair MacIntyre). These are the main ethical lenses through which people view the world and one thrust of the IAB program is to get students to recognize which lens they use and how that affects their decision-making in business as well as in other aspects of their lives. Students will learn to recognize ethical dilemmas and potential threats to integrity.

“Once you know your perspective, you will need to know if there are other things you need to look at before making a decision—other options, other primary players and secondary players, other stakeholders. We will look closely at cases where there are no rules and how you make decisions then,” Torti said.

“Although there are lots of laws and policies in business, there are frequently cases where no rules or road maps exist, or they are unfamiliar.” What makes the Schreiner program unique is the integration of these issues with existing course material, rather than teaching ethics as a stand-alone subject.

“The timing on a program like this is way overdue,” Torti said. “We can’t be passive about integrity. I’m optimistic that this kind of integrated ethics curriculum will really help make a difference and impact the lives of our students.”