Senior graphic design students showcase quality and breadth of their work during capstone presentations

by | Mar 18, 2024

Duan Bills was one of 15 seniors sharing his work in front of friends, family members, faculty, alumni and even a few potential employers over two nights last week in Lucas Hall.
Duan Bills presents his senior graphic design capstone project with cartoon graphics used to promote internet safety

Senior graphic design major Duan Bills presents his capstone project last Wednesday evening in Lucas Hall. Bills’ project made use of cartoon graphics to help promote internet safety. (Photos by Derik Holtmann)

Duan Bills was greeted with sustained applause Wednesday evening when it was his turn to take the stage during the first night of senior graphic design capstone presentations at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

As Bills stepped behind the lectern in the first-floor lecture hall inside Lucas Hall, the image of an internet cookies pop-up graphic appeared on the screen behind him.

“How many of you are familiar with this pop-up?” Bills asked.

His question was met with hand raises and head nods from the 70 or so people in attendance.

Brynne Qualley shares her senior graphic design project, an app intended to help members of the rock climbing community connect with each other

Senior Brynne Qualley describes how she developed the logo for her senior graphic design project, an app intended to help members of the rock climbing community connect with each other.

“I would assume that’s most of you,” Bills continued. “Usually, we see this screen and just hit Accept without really thinking about what it means, myself included. Although there’s relatively little harm in doing that and going about your day, this lack of knowledge brought me to greater realization that the internet as we know it continues to expand, and it becomes a larger part of our lives by the day. It makes sense that there will be information that people just don’t know, particularly when it comes to staying safe online.”

Bills proceeded to take the audience of friends, family members, faculty and alumni through a design campaign he created that is intended to teach important lessons in internet safety. Aimed primarily at a Gen Z audience, the video campaign featured motion graphics and incorporated humor while showcasing a style and aesthetics intended to make viewers nostalgic for cartoons they might have watched as kids on Cartoon Network, Disney or Nickelodeon.

For the name of his campaign, he settled on Screen Savers, and he envisioned users accessing the videos on a website and through a mobile app.

Other students made social media advertisements, smartphone apps and even printed books the centerpieces of their projects, giving those in attendance a look at both the quality and breadth of work produced in UMSL’s graphic design program.

Sophie Skroska speaks a lectern while delivering her senior graphic design presentation in Lucas Hall

Sophie Skroska discusses her senior graphic design project, “Crashical,” which gives viewers a crash course in opera using motion graphics created in a style similar to Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

“I think that’s what’s really great about UMSL’s design program is that we really try to incorporate lots of different topics and different ways of designing into the program,” said Jodi Kolpakov, a visiting assistant teaching professor in the Department of Art and Design who oversaw the second-semester senior seminar in which students perfected their work. “Even in intro classes, you’re learning how to do a motion project, you’re learning how to do a branding project, how to do an editorial project. I think giving them that exposure early on really helps them blossom or discover what they’re good at early on, so that they can really focus on that as they go towards graduation.”

For their capstone presentations, 15 seniors developed projects that fit under the theme of “Find Your Groove,” and they took turns presenting over two nights last week in Lucas Hall. Not only did their work showcase types of design and styles about which they felt most passionate, but they covered topics that were personal to each student.

Emma Saylor created a card game that would help people – particularly introverts – connect in so-called third spaces, outside of their homes or offices. Geoff Walker designed a social media campaign using animation that would help raise awareness of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

Sophie Skroska created motion graphics in the collage animation style of Monty Python’s Flying Circus to help share her love of opera with a general audience.

Brynne Qualley and Jess Young each designed graphics for apps. Qualley’s was intended to help people connect with fellow members of the rock climbing community. Young’s would be used to help people explore Missouri’s state parks, something she looks back fondly on from her own childhood.

Anayeli Levya Chavez's book CAPSY on display on a table in the hallway of Lucas Hall

Anayeli Levya Chavez’s book CAPSY is displayed on a table in the hallway of Lucas Hall.

Anayeli Levya Chavez created a book called CAPSY – incorporating branding, typography and photography – to help share personal stories of members of immigrant communities, hoping that exposure to common experiences can help them cope with stress, anxiety and depression.

Alanah Fahey designed a campaign called Soar Sisters, incorporating posters, products and a short book, meant to help older sisters guide their younger sisters through the challenges of growing up and promote bonding.

There were additional projects showcased on Thursday night.

“They’re really passionate to work on them,” Kolpakov said of the capstone presentations. “I hope they also showcase their skills and the unique aspects about themselves as designers.”

The students began working on these projects at the start of the academic year and have been creating and refining them over six or seven months. It gives them the experience of working on a project long-term and forces them to solicit and incorporate feedback.

Geoff Walker shows off the storyboard he created for one of his animations for a social media campaign about ADHD

Senior Geoff Walker shows off the storyboard he created for an animation to help raise awareness of ADHD.

Those are things employers are looking for in their job candidates.

The senior capstone presentations are intended to give students a leg up as they try to launch their careers. Not only do the faculty invite representatives from different agencies to the presentations, but they also host a website where would-be employers can learn about the students, view their portfolios and connect.

“In addition to that, we do a lot of studio tours or guest lectures where people from those agencies come and talk to the students and do portfolio reviews,” said Kolpakov, who works with Professor Jennifer McKnight and Assistant Teaching Professor Elizabeth Buchta in the graphic design program. “The students also go to conferences, which I think is important. I’ve been really trying to push them out into the world early so that when they’re close to graduation, they have that network and connections to help them get jobs when they graduate.”

Miranda Murray, a 2021 graduate of the program, congratulated the students Wednesday evening while providing encouragement from her own experience entering the workforce after graduation.

“All of the professors, the alumni, everyone not only helped me gain the skills, but during the job search, they actually helped me land some of the clients that allowed me to work for myself full-time and eventually open a business on my own,” Murray said. “We’re always here – the alumni are here; the professors are still here – during all of your job searching.”

Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik