The journey toward Collaboratory success

The journey toward Collaboratory success

Posted on September 10, 2015 by Judy Sedgeman

Three years ago, The Patterson Foundation entered a partnership with Ringling College of Art and Design to establish an innovative program to engage all its students in real-world work with real clients during the course of their Ringling College education.  Today, The Collaboratory at Ringling College is a thriving enterprise, which is, as of this year, fulfilling that commitment. Its lofty vision for the future extends far beyond the initial goal to become a global innovator in service-design education.

The first year of the partnership was devoted to a national search for the right person to lead the Collaboratory, and to an internal marketing effort to help Ringling College faculty and students understand this new concept and actively engage in the planning for it. A class of Advertising Design students presented imaginative concepts for the new Collaboratory space. Numerous meetings were held with faculty, students, department heads and Ringling leadership to explore the Collaboratory's potential and build the foundation for change. The search brought forward 12  promising candidates from a field of 250 identified. When the 12 were narrowed to three, campus visits and intensive interviews resulted in hiring Cynthia Gravino to become the associate vice president of collaborative enterprises. She joined the college in August 2013, and the vision for the Collaboratory began to spring to life.

The Collaboratory operates as part of the Academic Affairs department on campus, and while the operation’s aim is to be self-sustaining financially, the intent has been to advance the integration of Collaboratory activities throughout the departmental curriculum programs, as well as to generate unique Collaboratory opportunities.

Work was mostly local and low-key in the 2013-14 academic year, as the policy and marketing infrastructure was built. A few initial clients engaged with students, including some small start-up businesses and the Sarasota Police Department, which was re-branding and rebuilding its community relations image. Students and clients engaged quickly and showed tremendous enthusiasm. As client interest accelerated, it became clear that the demand would require more than faculty to facilitate some of the projects. Thus, external alumni facilitators and area experts were brought on board for some Collaboratory activities.

By the spring semester, there were Collaboratory charettes almost every weekend in addition to numerous class activities. One Collaboratory client, a clothing design and marketing enterprise, became the subject of a newly developed full semester Collaboratory elective.  In this new elective course, students learned how such an enterprise is built, managed and marketed. Initially, to establish the reputation of the student work and to expand the client base, clients paid reduced fees as the projects got underway. The fees provide opportunities for students and faculty to be compensated for work through the Collaboratory.

In the 2014-15 semester, clients included Fortune 50 businesses and increasingly sophisticated challenges for students. More and more faculty stepped up to incorporate Collaboratory work into their courses. A second elective course was developed. A flurry of local and national press took note of this emerging phenomenon on the Ringling campus. The engagements even reached into Hollywood, with a Collaboratory project to involve students in the design of a new online game with a Hollywood studio.

The first of what will be many collaborative agreements with other colleges and universities was signed with Clemson University in South Carolina for an exchange program in which communications students from Clemson attended a four-week immersion program to work on client-based Collaboratory projects with Ringling students. Students from Ringling went to Clemson to work with students there, too. These programs will not only diversify and enrich the experience for Ringling students, but will also engage a variety of other educational institutions in creating the future of experiential learning.

The Patterson Foundation’s support was critical to the start-up years of the program because it assured that the Collaboratory could hire a strong leader and develop a talent pool, as well as build a vibrant program and provide compensation to faculty and external facilitators and scholarship assistance or stipends and travel costs (when needed) to students.

The Patterson Foundation offered the Collaboratory funds for human capital, pipeline development and start-up, as well as the intellectual capital contributions of an initiative consultant. The high-energy start-up of the enterprise assures that the project will be self-sustaining, and achieve its desire to take a national leadership role in educating students for the professional demands they will face. This entire operation also allowed the College to make the Collaboratory Commitment to entering students in the 2015-16 academic year. This commitment guarantees that every student who begins enrollment in 2015-16 is guaranteed to have the opportunity to work on a real-world project with a real-world client before they graduate.

Because of its strong start, the Collaboratory is now designing next steps in a world in which design thinking is increasingly seen as a differentiator in organizational success. It intends to support and educate Ringling graduates and other young creative professionals through entrepreneurially-based projects and additional hands-on start- up and business-oriented education and experiential training, utilizing design to uniquely impact business collaborations.

The Collaboratory was a careful steward of The Patterson Foundation's funding commitment. By the end of its contract with The Patterson Foundation, funds remained to be accessed during the following year as the Collaboratory turns the corner to total self-support.

In keeping with The Patterson Foundation’s philosophy of strong partnership, offering the very best chance to innovate ideas that reflect the Patterson family’s interests and values, we are proud to call this a great example of innovation in education in the visual arts, contributing to the future of talented young people, and to the evolution of the power and meaning of art and design in the world.

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