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KCC Faculty on Teaching

KCC Faculty on Teaching

  Q&A with Susan Spivack | Graphic Design

How did you get into teaching?
When I was in my mid-20s, the chair of the graphic design department at the School of Visual Arts, also a former instructor of mine, contacted me out of the blue and asked if I wanted to teach a graphic design class. I was shocked. I asked him why he called me and he said it was because I was an excellent student, a talented designer and a wonderful role model for his female students in particular. I was flattered and thrilled and began a career that has spanned three decades teaching at the School of Visual Arts, Pratt Institute and, of course, my favorite, Kingsborough Community College.

What career did you imagine for yourself when you were in college?
I went to college to become a graphic designer and was fortunate enough to realize my dreams. I worked for several different types of advertising and design firms before opening my own design business. 

What do you love about teaching?
I love teaching because it gives me the opportunity to connect with young people, to earn their trust and then be able to guide them. Sometimes that guidance is on their careers and sometimes it’s their personal lives.

What’s your favorite teaching experience?
My favorite teaching experiences actually have nothing to do with teaching design. They are the times when a student comes to me with a problem that is bigger than just academics and I am able to help them navigate these difficult issues. Sometimes a student just needs a sensible, caring individual to support and advise them during a difficult time.

In what ways do you bring your professional experience into the classroom?
My workday has often been a weave of my work as a designer and my work as a professor. For example, after leaving a meeting at the United Nations, I went straight to class, bubbling with excitement about the new branding system my firm was working on for them. Sharing the details of the meeting and having the students follow along as the project and the semester progressed, they observed, in real time, the world of the professional designer.  Another time, my firm was designing the event graphics for the NYC Marathon and I invited my students to participate by creating sketches. A sketch created by one of my students was developed into an award-winning design!

What advice do you have for current students?
My advice for current students is never give up. During an annual meeting I hold advising on transferring to a four-year college, I tell my students about my educational journey. I share that it took me 15 years to get my master’s degree because life kept getting in the way. And I tell them about how I just kept chipping away at it until finally, 15 years later, I was able to graduate with the degree that would open up the door to becoming a professor. It was hard work, but at the end of the day it enabled me to add teaching to my rich professional design life.