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Most students would never think of their classwork ending up on the President of the United States' desk or delivered to all of Congress, but for Shepherd students enrolled in Professional Practice in Graphic Design, that thought is a reality. Taught by Stephanie Engle, the class allows students to gain professional experience and credit at the same time by working with the National Park Service to design the National Capital Region annual report.

The opportunity began two years ago when the National Park Service had internships with the Harpers Ferry design center and decided to explore doing the annual report.

"The National Park Service has to be creative within budget," said Bill Line, communications officer. He said the Park Service benefits from a fresh perspective and students from a strong portfolio piece. "It's a wonderful experience from a creative standpoint, and it produces a product they can use when they're job hunting." Used as a showcase piece, the annual report highlights the 14 parks in the National Capital Region which include the National Mall and memorial parks, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Antietam National Battlefield, and Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.

Getting into the class isn't easy‚--interested students must apply a semester ahead, submit their resume, portfolio, and be interviewed. Ten students are selected for the yearlong class, half as designers and half as photographers. They receive three credit hours a semester, are in class four hours, and spend no less than 10 hours working outside of class each week. The class begins the year by discussing how an annual report is used in corporate and nonprofit sectors. Students examine the previous year's report to identify strengths and weaknesses, then learn the message of the National Capital Region for the year. The students have biweekly meetings where tasks are assigned and reviewed, and one student assumes the role of studio manager and is required to take all notes, organize, and disseminate the information. Design students sketch thumbnails and develop concepts and designs. Photography students take test shots to establish a look and feel.

Designers each do an individual design direction for the report. The designs undergo an internal critique each week until refined designs are ready to be reviewed by guest critics from the Harpers Ferry center and local members of the design community. During a critique, Kris Klein's work was noticed and she was tapped for another project. "This class opened up additional opportunities, and I have been asked to work with a team to design the annual report for Independence National Park in Philadelphia," said Klein, a senior art/graphic design major from Kearneysville.

The design is then narrowed to three directions after being assessed to meet the rigorous criteria of the National Park Service identity standards. Text is given to the students in late October and by the end of the fall semester, they give their formal design presentation in Washington, D.C., where a single design direction is chosen for production. "This class reinforces all the skills we've picked up and combines everything into one real world type of situation," said Michele Foshee, a junior art/graphic design major from Charles Town.

Photography students are encouraged to work independently, and it's important for them to visit places at certain times to be able to take the best photograph. Parks with autumn foliage or events such as the lighting of the Christmas tree on the National Mall must be shot at precise times to ensure the best photo. "You have to work with the weather. Going to a place and observing it is important so you know what time of day to go back," said Lydia Polimeni, a junior art/photography and computer imaging major from Capon Bridge.

While in the past some photos have come from the National Park Service, all of the photos in the 2004 Annual Report are produced by the students, who also arranged and coordinated their on-location photo shoots. This year the Park Service has provided students with a government vehicle to assist in their commute to the greater Washington area.

Final layout and production begin spring semester, and just like a real job, students that weren't contributing can be "fired" and new students can be "hired." Tommy Welti, a senior art/graphic design major from Leesburg, Virginia, joined the class second semester because, "It's like a professional job and my future employers would be able to see my actual work."

Spring semester also requires the designers and photographers to work together to ensure the best possible product. "It was a new experience working with a design teamóthey give you a lot of positive feedback," said Polimeni.

Also like a real job, the class can be stressful. "You have to coordinate your schedule with people who are busy and want things done. Scheduling with the client and making everything work is a challenge," said Foshee.

Line usually visits once a month during the spring semester to review each page, picture, and paragraph with the class. Decisions are made to keep or remove certain pictures, add more copy, or change the page layout completely. The print deadline for this year's project was March 15. Throughout the process students are involved with submitting specs, bidding projects, working with printing techniques and paper samples, and assessing production cost. After the report has gone to print, the class works on the archival process and conducts interviews with the Park Service to improve and streamline the process in the coming years.

"If you take good pictures, there might be future job opportunities after graduation. This class really opens doors," said Beth Mickelinc, a senior art/photography and computer imaging major from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. While many graduates often have luck finding jobs with companies with which they have interned, Line said that Washington tends to be more bureaucratic, and the most likely place for students with graphic design and photography skills would be the Harpers Ferry design center. "The design center has won a number of awards and would be a very good career opportunity for students. The National Park Service would welcome graphic design and photography students to apply for jobs," he said. Two students from the class are currently interning there.

Students in the class said they felt the class gives them valuable real world experience, quality portfolio pieces, and contacts after graduation. "This class is really an eye-opening experience because it gives you professional experience with the outside world," said Krystal Tydings, a junior art/photography and computer imaging major from Hagerstown, Maryland.

Line said he felt it was a win-win situation. "The National Park Service is exceedingly pleased with the strong partnership and consistently high level of professionalism displayed by faculty and students," he said.

Engle said she also felt it was a valuable experience. "Students engage in a professional experience from concept to printed piece, are involved in every facet of the design process from concept to production, and develop the time management skills necessary for a project of this scope. They meet with all levels of clients within the Park Service and develop refined communication and presentation skills. Students also gain a strong understanding of the challenge of translating content into an appropriate and visually compelling design, and they learn the value of constructive criticism in the evolution and refinement of their work," she said.

The report will be printed by the middle of April, and Line said, "I am positive the President will get a copy." An impressive place for a student's classwork to end up.

Stephanie Horst

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