Scott Cooper

Scott Cooper

Your education doesn't stop when you graduate—it's just the beginning of another level of learning. Scott Cooper , Graphic Design Instructor , The Art Institute of San Antonio, a branch of The Art Institute of Houston

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

I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. When I met my wife, she encouraged me to consider the computer as another tool in my drawing kit. I began learning digital graphic design, which blossomed into a creative career I never imagined. I think of myself as a Renaissance artist, since I work in both traditional and digital mediums.

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

I recreate some of my early projects as classroom challenges. I encourage students to find a way to make the project work, and then explain how I approached the challenge. I ask them to bring any freelance projects they’re working on into the classroom to present to their classmates, and share any fresh challenges they come across. The more real-world we can make the learning, the better.

What class assignment exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring?

I present assignments as though they’ve come from real clients, and it’s up to my students to interact with those clients to establish the project parameters. Sometimes I arrange to have actual, real-world clients come to class to make the assignment as real as possible. They get the actual experience of dealing with the demands, needs, and vagaries of the real world. For example, recently a representative of the Kirby Animal Shelter met with students to explain the shelter’s need for new signage. Each student submitted designs, which were reviewed by to the Kirby City Council. If one is approved, that student will have a professional portfolio piece—and an actual client they can include on their resumé. And they’ll have made a contribution to the community.

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

I try to have students from various departments work together as often as possible, because I think that helps prepare students for whatever challenges they may encounter in the workplace. Learning to work with different disciplines is critical for any successful career.

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

I stress the importance of time management, as well as communication with the client. Also, I want them to understand that design is for the client, not for the designer.

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

Your education doesn’t stop when you graduate—it’s just the beginning of another level of learning. Keep up to date with software, techniques, design trends. Keep your portfolio and website updated with current work. And socialize and network like crazy.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I never rest on my laurels. I practice every day, and continue my education even now. I’m in school again myself, working on my second MFA, this one in Web Design and New Media with a concentration in mobile device applications.