BLOG*August 27, 2012

Christine Brown

One of the best parts of teaching, lecturing and presenting workshops for higher education is the people I meet. I love connecting with all the talented, passionate individuals who enjoy teaching and inspiring others to greatness. Some of these special people work in the Career and Professional Development departments. Recently, I lectured at the AICAD and CIAD conferences at Ringling College of Art and Design and learned much about this group of professionals who guide students toward career opportunities.

Let’s celebrate one of them!

Christine Brown is the Director of Career and Professional Development at Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University.

GS: Tell us about your journey to becoming a Director for Career and Professional Development at Kendall.

CB: Like most people it was not a straight and narrow path but more like a bouncing balloon. It was a journey of learning about myself. I started out in college studying biology and chemistry, then becoming very interested in law and finally graduating with a Business and a Paralegal degree. There was something common in my choices of the various majors and it became more apparent when I began to volunteer at the local Women’s Resource Center. I wanted to empower people.

I discovered that whatever occupation I chose, working with people to improve their quality of life had to be a big component of the job. Whether graduating with a law degree and working for children’s and women’s right’s or becoming a health care provider I wanted to make a difference.

I had a couple of wonderful mentors who saw my passion. They provided me with the opportunity and training to work and volunteer helping students in a college environment as well as at the Women’s Center. You cannot help but grow and flourish when you are doing what is your passion. I worked in Career Services at the business college where I received my degree, then asked to interview for the Director of the Career Office at Kendall in 1998. I have been here since and enjoy coming to work everyday.

Besides the paycheck, the real pay off is the box of letters and thank you notes I receive from people who feel that I made a difference.

.GS: It is wonderful when your work is aligned with what you love. What do you feel is the most important and fulfilling facets of what you do?

CB: That I have the opportunity to meet so many students, alumni, and people in the business community, then bringing these constituents together.

GS: After returning from the AICAD and CIAD conferences it was apparent that much of the career councilors work is gathering statistics for government funding, fulfilling accreditation requirements, and seeking out job openings for graduates. The amount of bureaucracy you must wade through is immense. How do you prioritize these responsibilities and how does the student fit in?

CB: We have had to be smarter in the way we work. Technology has become and important part of the equation in delivering services and information to our students and alumni. I am a one person office with an assistant which I share with another director. When I started enrollment was 550. We are now at an enrollment of 1400 so I have to be creative.

I believe my mission is to prepare these students to be self-sufficient and resourceful. I still meet with students one-on-one, but the traffic is down due to the technology we have implemented. Students today like having 24/7 access online to services.

GS: Self-sufficiancy is vitally important to sustainability. How do you learn the needs, and ambitions of your individual students?

CB: Shut-up, Listen and Observe!

GS: Sounds like good advice!
It appears that the success of much higher education today is determined by its job placement capabilities. Preparing and plugging graduates into industry positions is a priority. I have never seen curriculum that focuses on creating an industry around an individual’s talent and vision. Any thoughts on this?

CB: I do not place people in jobs. I provide them with the skills to manage their careers whether it is job searching or starting their own business. Many of our alumni who come to the college and share their stories with our students are running their own consultancies. I personally would like to see more business-related classes geared towards artists and designers. West Michigan has some great support resources for anyone wanting to start a business. Just by the nature of art and design, most artists/designers should be prepared to negotiate contracts, work with clients, price their work, understand their markets and create new markets.

GS: It has been my experience especially over the last decade that more and more students as well as professional artists are looking for ways to create a living from their own creations and stories. Have you noticed this shift at Kendall?

Yes, entrepreneurialism is on the rise.

.With the all the new community resources, business education and venture capitalists in West Michigan, I see more people making that leap. It is great to see how many of our graduates have opened their own design studios, art businesses and galleries. I recently met with our new college President who asked me what ideas I see in the future for Kendall. My response was to develop an entrepreneurial center/incubator for artists and designers. Guess what? He liked the idea and said he was sure there were grants and funding for this type of endeavor.

GS: Wow, that is awesome. Go to the top when you want to get something done!  The entrepreneurial center/incubator for crowd funding etc. are ideas all colleges/universities can implement now.
You were instrumental in bringing me to Kendall last year to present an Artist As Brand workshop, and are now having me return again this November. What has been the feedback of the students, faculty and alumni?

CB: I had students and alum who attended the weekend session call or stop by my office to thank Nancy and myself for sponsoring your visit. It was a great success and attendees felt they were connecting the dots of their life, aspirations and their work. There was excitement in the room because they felt like they had a focus and a direction. It was always there inside of them, but you gave them the window to look inside and discovery it themselves.

Artist As Brand Workshop at Kendall 2011

GS: That is wonderful to hear, thank you. I look forward to returning! One of the goals in the workshop is to bring clarity to an artist’s personal vision, then connect that to a plan of action. I find that there is tremendous empowerment when tapping into ones own volition and seeing success rise from it. How do you define success?

Success to me is living the best life you can and becoming an inspiration to others.

GS: Sounds like a Heart Virtue to me!
Art is like fashion, it changes and morphs throughout the years. Any suggestions for an artist’s sustainability and final pearls of wisdom?

CB: Stay connected with your art community and do whatever it takes to remain inspired to create.

1.  If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not taking risks, that means you’re not going anywhere.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
3. Trust yourself.

Inspiration is the word! Thank you Christine for sharing your journey, and insight into the world of Career & Professional Development! See you soon!
And thank you to all the Career Service professionals who are beacons of light for students everywhere.