Lots of walking and lots of design firms – those are two things a group of University of Missouri–St. Louis students will most likely always associate with Amsterdam after their experience in the capital of the Netherlands this past June.
“We walked over 100 miles in two weeks,” graphic design major Alyssa Halloran recalled last week at a special event commemorating the trip. “We saw all sorts of designs, and it definitely influenced how my design’s happening now. Even though it’s only two weeks into school, I can definitely tell it’s made a huge difference.”
A crowd of well-wishers joined Halloran, her classmates and faculty member Jennifer McKnight on Thursday to kick off a special exhibit inside the Millennium Student Center’s Gallery Visio. Along with reminiscing about the summer travels, those gathered enjoyed visual representations of the UMSL group’s experiences overseas.
“I have always been very interested in the international studies mission of bringing the world to campus,” said McKnight, who has overseen student trips to Amsterdam on four different occasions over the past seven years. “If we were so privileged as to go away and see beautiful work, we really want to share what we saw with everyone here.”
She and the design students packed a lot into their relatively brief time in the Netherlands.
A typical day involved a morning introduction (delivered by McKnight) about the subject at hand followed by a journey on foot to one of the design firms, museums or related destinations scattered across the city.
“We got to visit a bunch of firms, so I got to see how those are run,” said Alison Viehman, who also studied in Florence, Italy, in 2016. “And then different styles – we went to a screenprint firm, a magazine firm, just a bunch of different things like branding for Smirnoff bottles and Nike ads and all that – an all-around view of the design industry there.”
One might assume such unique opportunities to be the result of handy connections, but they’re really more a matter of not being afraid to ask, according to McKnight.
“I actually don’t have connections; I have guts, and I will cold-call anyone,” the associate professor of graphic design said with a laugh. “And you know, actually, it’s also a UMSL thing. When you call and tell people who is coming, and what kind of people they are, they can’t help responding to the kind of students that come to school in the design program. They always warm to who these people are. It’s my secret weapon.”
One of those people is Jack Cradic, who said he appreciated the culture of Amsterdam along with the trip’s direct influence on his studies and professional pursuits.
“The Dutch really pride themselves on being prompt and being on time, and that’s something that I kind of want to take forward with my own work,” Cradic said. “They have a really strong work ethic and focus on getting things done, and then they go hang with their family. They find a really nice balance between work and relaxation while still getting everything done.”
Cradic also got to celebrate his 21st birthday in Amsterdam and said McKnight bought him a cake and helped make it particularly memorable for him and his peers.
As he and the other participants reflected on the trip last week during the reception in Gallery Visio, the conversation kept coming back to design itself – and that made McKnight smile.
“One of the reasons I’m really pleased about this year’s trip is that it was rising juniors, which means they have two years to digest everything they saw in Amsterdam – and to remind me of those things,” McKnight said. “We have specific notes in the curriculum to bring up the different firms we saw and talk through them as case studies.”
Maureen Quigley, chair of the Department of Art and Design, called the exhibit a fitting reflection of what UMSL students are doing “as their professional practice and as their future.”
“Gallery Visio is meant to be an art space for students by students,” she said, “and students make the decisions about what goes in here. It’s wonderful to see that all the students who went to Amsterdam not only had that special experience but now they’re having that second step, which is taking your life experience and putting it into practice.”
The Amsterdam-inspired student work will remain on display in Gallery Visio through Sept. 27. The gallery is open Mondays and Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.