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A Good Mix of Ideas

A Good Mix of Ideas

Sophomore Mei Lenehan 18 GD finds value in selecting classes that intellectually complement one another.

Sophomore Mei Lenehan 18 GD is devoted to collaborating on the biannual zine WHY THE BEEF?

For sophomore Mei Lenehan 18 GD, words are as important as images, which is part of what drew her to major in Graphic Design. Then there’s Why the Beef? (YTB), a (more or less) biannual zine published collaboratively by students from RISD and Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA).

“I got involved last year after meeting [recent graduate] Alice Taranto 15 GD, who was the TA in myDrawing studio,” Lenehan explains. She immediately loved the experimental format of YTB and the collaborative nature of producing a publication, and is already “running it this year with a few upperclassmen.”

Though Lenehan initially opted for Furniture Design she switched to Graphic Design in part because of something Taranto said. “She pointed out that if you make something like furniture, you can distribute a photo of the thing you made, but not the actual thing,” Lenehan recalls. “Part of what I love about graphic design is that it’s massively distributable.”

Lenehan also appreciates the “timeless” quality of the curriculum in Graphic Design. Faculty are open to graphic design in all of its forms, she says—whether a student hopes to work for Facebook someday or become a fine artist—and most of the classes she has taken thus far focus on process and the role of the designer. “So it’s not like what you’re learning is going to go out of style,” she notes.

Lenehan says that Foundation year was exactly what she needed to transition from high school to college. “I learned a lot about technique,” she says, “but I also learned how to think about things—to think critically about what I was making. Having that time to explore and work on projects that don’t have a specific function was really valuable.”

One of the first-year experiences that continues to shape Lenehan’s course of study is a decision she made—after much soul-searching—to drop a Wintersession class. “I was taking a Ceramics studio and a Liberal Arts class called The Death of the Author,” she recalls. “But the classes just didn’t work together. Now I sign up for classes that make sense together, so that I’m thinking about similar ideas throughout the semester.”

For instance, last fall Lenehan combined introductory Graphic Design classes with a graduate workshop called Fab Lab that teaches students to experiment and work with tools available at Co-Works—RISD’s interdisciplinary design space—as well as a Literary Arts + Studies class called Rhetorics of New Media. This spring she’s taking an advanced poetry workshop that she expects will “mix up pretty well” with her second-semester Graphic Design classes.

“I’m interested in both poetry and more academic writing,” says Lenehan. “As a Graphic Design major, it’s just as important for me to write well as it is to make a piece look good.”

Lenehan has plenty of time to decide what she’ll do after graduating, but she can see herself in the publishing world. She’s also interested in education and really appreciates the structure and support she has found at RISD. “I’ve learned so much in this environment,” she says. “You can really feel how much everyone here cares.”

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