Dakota Wesleyan University

What can other educators and institutions learn from the successes and failures of your experience-oriented academic program?: 

Dakota Wesleyan University is one of only two universities in South Dakota to offer a web design major and the only university in the state offering a mobile usability and user experience class. This year, Dakota Wesleyan University and Kyle Herges have setup a partnership with companies to give students internship opportunities. In our experience, successful internships often lead to full time employment.

Our first experience design intern started in the fall 2013 and was offered a full time position after 5 months of interning. Due to the success of this initial placement, the business is ready to host the next internship this coming fall. Dakota Wesleyan University sees the value in hiring professionals in the field with relevant work experience. Hiring professionals with real world experience not only gives the program credibility but it also gives students opportunities that may not have otherwise been possible. The Digital Media and Design program is just one example of such an opportunity. This program was completely rewritten consulting a network of top-notch educators as well as professionals who have worked for Apple, Citrix, Disney, Verizon, Yahoo, and more.

What is the structure and content of your program?: 

The program structure is evolving. As of now, we offer majors in digital media and design and graphic design, as well as minors. These majors are constructed to offer the most in experience in the various digital fields, including mobile design and usability and internship requirements to ensure students are familiar with the real-world demands of the work place. We project our curriculum to evolve throughout the years as our field evolves but can be viewed at our website

When students complete your program, what credentials, experience, and portfolio materials have they accumulated, and how do they support their career success?: 

Upon completion of the Digital Media and Design program students are armed with what you would typically think a college graduate should have: resumes, cover letters, business cards and an personal elevator pitch. At Dakota Wesleyan University, we are intentional about our students developing and demonstrating strong verbal and written communication skills and they leave the institution with a strong and diverse portfolio. While we obviously work diligently at developing design and technical skills, we believe communication is essential for user interface and experience designers. Having the ability to effectively communicate with developers, other designers, product managers, or anyone else for that matter, is at the forefront of our program. We believe this skill set is what will differentiate our graduates from the rest. "Ability to communicate" is not a cliché statement added to every resume here. Dakota Wesleyan University design students have to earn that skill set. A killer portfolio is the goal of every design graduate. The difference between Digital Media and Design majors at Dakota Wesleyan University and graduates from other local universities is that the portfolios from our graduates are filled with work from the real-world. Whether it’s work for non-profits, local businesses or the University itself, Dakota Wesleyan University Digital Media and Design students know what it’s like to work with a client and have the experience and portfolio to prove it. Please note, when referencing other local universities, that Dakota Wesleyan University is one of two universities in the state of South Dakota offering a degree in web design and the only University within the state offering classes in mobile experience and design.

Who are your program’s key instructors and what qualifications and experience do they bring?: 

Professor Kyle Herges, MFA is the key instructor and department chairman for the Digital Media and Design major at Dakota Wesleyan University. Herges graduated from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, California with a Masters of Fine Arts in Computer Art and New Media design in 2010. He is an entrepreneur and has valuable industry experience as a graphic designer, web designer and mobile user interface designer/usability analyst. Prior to coming to Dakota Wesleyan University, Herges was a part of the telecommunications industry doing user interface designer/usability analyst for the last five years. Cherie Ramsdell, MA. Ramsdell teaches foundation design courses such as principles of design, typography, color theory, etc. The foundation design courses play a key role within Digital Media and Design because it’s important to know why we do what we do. Ramsdell is a local artist who serves the community with her creativity by being the first women to ever design the murals for the worlds only Corn Palace. Ramsdell is also and entrepreneur, traveling the country and selling her one of a kind horse hair pottery.

How do you ensure your program’s content is and remains in synch with modern practices and the needs of employers?: 

Much of the content of this major has come from a combination of the three different areas: industry experience, networking, and social networking. It's important to teach content and techniques that employers want. The content is new and the curriculum, in its entirety, has been written and rewritten based upon feedback from companies, agencies and first hand industry experience. The network Herges brings with him extends from coast to coast, literally. The Academy of Art University not only gave him access to top-notch educators but has also introduced him to professionals right there in Silicon Valley. Prior to writing the curriculum, Herges has picked the minds of interface designers and user experience designers who have worked for Apple, Citrix, Disney, Verizon, Yahoo and more. In the digital age, networking has not only become easier, it has quickly become essential. Beyond the personal network, exists the social media network. Following industry organizations and professionals in the field completes the digital trifecta. We practice what we preach, in that regularly reading and contributing online and creating a strong social presence that won't just make a future professional (i.e. a student) better but could also help others.

Please share any objective and anecdotal evidence that demonstrates the your program’s ability to equip students for “real-world” value and successfulness.: 

The Digital Media and Design program at Dakota Wesleyan University is still in its infancy but has already had an impact on graduates and upcoming graduates alike. This is the first full academic year that Digital Media and Design has been offered as a major and already a senior (graduating in May 2014) has been offered, and accepted, a User Interface Design position at one of the largest software engineering companies in Mitchell, SD. This year, Dakota Wesleyan University and Professor Herges have setup a partnership with companies, like the mentioned above, to give students opportunities at internships. Upon completion of the internship the hopes are to get the interns hired full time, and that’s just what happened. We are looking to get another intern started at the same company in the fall. This is a single instance but is a prefect example of the quality of education these graduates are leaving with, from this new major.

User Experience and Interface Designers are still scarce in the upper Midwest and all but non-existent in South Dakota, with only one other university in the state offering a major in web design and no other universities offering classing specific to interface and experience design. Trends are changing quickly, however, and South Dakota has recently been recognized for its surge in technology. Sioux Falls, South Dakota’s largest city and only an hour from Mitchell, has recently been recognized as a tech hub and Mitchell has again been voted one of the 21 smartest communities in the world. This gives students at Dakota Wesleyan University, the majority of which are in state residents, the unique opportunity to find good jobs, locally, right out of school. Because the students get such a broad taste of user interface design and experience design, they are never limited to just one area of expertise or technology. Students are able to apply their knowledge to anything from websites to mobile devices, from touchscreens to car radios.