Christopher Terrazas

Christopher Terrazas

Creativity is about daring the system, doing the thing that may make you look stupid. Christopher Terrazas , Faculty , The Art Institute of California—Sacramento, a campus of Argosy University

Was there a defining moment when you knew you were destined to become a creative professional?

I've always been creative but I came into the profession thanks to a former boss and mentor. Although I studied acting in college, I ended up with a Bachelor's in Mathematics. Eventually, I was hired by J. Walter Thompson, a top ad agency in Los Angeles. Larry Greenfield, the Creative Director of JWT at the time, says that he hired me into the Creative Department because of my math background. He told me that creativity is problem solving and that I had the skills necessary to be Creative. That's when I knew.

How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience?

I understand what hiring managers are looking for because I was responsible for hiring designers. Additionally, I am a creative professional with the unique background of Mathematics. Math is an integral part of designing and a huge part of creating budgets and running my own business. Therefore, when a student asks, "When will I ever use this? I'm going to cook, or write, or draw. I don't need to know this." I’m able to prove to them that they will need it. To succeed in this business, you need to know math and I tailor my classes to show that.

What class assignment exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring?

The Birdhouse Project. Given certain specifications and budget amounts, teams are asked to design three birdhouses, calculate production costs, provide a budget and present to fictional clients. This type of project is exactly what will be asked of them in the real world, whether they freelance, are employed by a firm or run their own business. The project has real-world implications using the knowledge they learn in the classroom. My goal is to prepare the student to make a mark and get the job.

How does collaboration contribute to students’ success—particularly when students from various programs work together?

Collaboration is an important and integral part of the student process. In the real world, we don't work in silos. For example, I currently have a department of six designers and collaboration is extremely important to better ourselves, our work and our career growth. Collaboration is also crucial to dealing with the departments I impact. Learning this skill in the classroom where mistakes can be made safely is beneficial to the growth of any student. It sets them up to succeed in a creative profession as well as with other professions that aren't creative.

What’s the most important thing you impart to students to help them succeed in class and the real world? 

The SINGLE most IMPORTANT thing I like to impart to my students to help them succeed in class and the real world is to keep at it and get comfortable with being a little vulnerable. In my opinion, success is about knowledge and marketability (or personality), but it's also about dedication. Too often I see students "give up." I show them that grit and determination is crucial to success. It’s just part of being creative.

What’s the most critical advice you would offer any student embarking on a creative career?

Creativity is about daring the system, doing the thing that may make you look stupid. Think of a leader in any field or profession. They put themselves out there regardless of who thinks their ideas are crazy. Students—be daring in the classroom and never give up. Practice this in the classroom and it will carry over into the real world. I, myself, dare to be crazy (just ask my students) every time I teach and I will never give up on my students' ability to learn.

Anything else?

I enjoy teaching at The Art Institute of California—Sacramento. I have found a place to combine my two passions, Mathematics and Design, and I get to share that passion with the students. I couldn't ask for anything better.