Who are the future designers of Chicago? Rashaan Meador can tell you—they’re the students sitting behind desks in schools like Curie Metro High, a magnet school on the south side that’s doubling as test kitchen for a design enrichment collab between Chicago Public Schools and AIGA Chicago. Meador, CPS’s senior program coordinator, is one of the brains behind the program: one that shows design-minded youth the ins and outs of the industry, then helps them get a foot in the door. It’s fostering industry fluency and creating access to the resources kids need (think computers and software).
A few weeks back, Curie High hosted a panel of five shops—One Design Company, Leo Burnett Dept. of Design, Cards Against Humanity, Morningstar and 50,000feet—giving students a chance to ask candid questions. It was a primer for the program’s city-wide job shadow event happening on December 2nd, when students will spend the day with designers at their shop of choice.
Before Meador closes out the year with this big event, we stole a few minutes with him to talk education, ambition and what’s on tap for 2016.
AIGA: You’ve been in your current role for five years, and running this new program with AIGA Chicago for two. What first attracted you to a career at CPS?
RM: I was running after-school programs about digital media and event planning along with creating and managing content for several hip-hop websites and publications. A friend sent me the job opening and thought I would be a perfect fit. I guess she was right!
The partnership happening between CPS and AIGA is pretty inspiring. Give us the abridged version of how it came to be.
There was a skeleton of the program running when I first started in 2010, but it wasn’t working well and it went away. We got a chance to revamp it last year with David Sieren [of AIGA Chicago and One Design] and take a different approach.
We scaled it down and made the approach more intimate—it worked beautifully. We brought in 5 companies to watch a group of digital media students present their work and career paths. The teachers also presented their curricula. Later, the students got the chance to visit those companies for a day and shadow professionals.
“I stress to them that you can be yourself in this industry—jeans, tattoos.”
There’s a big emphasis on exposure to real-world designers and workplaces. What kind of impact does this have?
The students get to meet and hear from real professionals. I stress to them that you can be yourself in this industry—jeans, graphic tees and tattoos can be “work clothes.” These are cool people with cool jobs, and you can be just like them. The students realized their portfolio presentations and attentiveness were the true test of them being prepared.
Have you seen big changes? Are more kids pursuing careers in design?
We started with mostly juniors last year, so we’re expecting to see the difference in college and career choices of those students this year. Our teachers have also embraced it, including more information about design career pathways in their everyday lessons.
What’s next? Do you have plans to expand?
We’re securing some internship opportunities with companies for the summer. We’re also creating avenues to partner with local non-profits to create design products for those in need. And we’re planning to receive guidance from our AIGA partners as well.
Want to get involved? To learn more about the CPS/AIGA Program, contact Rashaan Meador. And for information on hosting student shadows at your workspace, contact David Sieren.
Photo by David Saradin.