Building a Pre-eminent College – One Degree at a Time
For over 85 years, Ringling College of Art and Design has been cultivating the creative spirit in students from around the globe. This commitment to providing a transformative educational experience takes constant evaluation, thoughtful planning, and purposeful growth.
Helping to fulfill that commitment is Dr. Peter McAllister, who joined the college in July 2017 as Vice President for Academic Affairs.
“Peter has a vast knowledge of higher education and the arts, and he understands educational administration at premier levels. He works exceedingly well with his faculty colleagues and has been instrumental in moving a number of institutions to a higher level,” Dr. Larry R. Thompson, president of Ringling College, said of Peter’s hiring.
Prior to joining Ringling College, Dr. McAllister led the eight departments of the College of Arts & Letters at California State University, Los Angeles, which included TV, Film & Media Studies, Fine Arts, and Liberal Studies. Despite his experience, creating new majors that are interesting, impactful, and relevant is no easy feat. The Academic Affairs leadership team must consider a range of issues when deliberating new curricular opportunities. Will this major help us support and prepare our students for top-level career success? Do we have the faculty talent and the infrastructure to properly support this major? Does this new major fit our identity as a pre-eminent institution of art and design?
This exercise is the one that Dr. McAllister undertook with his team in 2018 when considering whether to become the first art and design college to have a Virtual Reality Development major. This major has created excitement across the community, drawing partners and supporters, like Drs. Joel and Gail Morganroth, who were so inspired by the program’s potential that they earmarked a gift to help support it. “The VR program is a design major focused on making the world a better place by using VR technology to solve complicated problems in the real world,” said Morgan Woolverton, interim department head for Game Art and Virtual Reality Development (VR). “One example would be our partnership with Moffitt Cancer Center. We are working together to develop a way to better prepare patients for challenging treatments that require patient participation.”
Entertainment Design, launched in Fall 2019, has proven similarly exciting. Its inaugural faculty member, Jamie DeRuyter, explained that the curriculum “provides students with the skills to conceive, visualize, and realize innovative design solutions that bring immersive entertainment experiences to life,” whether via a themed restaurant, themed hotel, theme park offerings, or other type of experience. DeRuyter described the students in the program’s first class as rock stars. “Their enthusiasm and pioneering spirit have made the beginnings of this endeavor fun and rewarding,” DeRuyter said.
Success, however, does not come only from new majors. Creating fresh opportunities within existing majors can have an equally significant impact, evidenced through the popularity of Film’s Branded Entertainment track, launched in Fall 2018, and Illustration’s Visual Development track, launched in Fall 2019. “Having emphasis areas, or tracks, within successful majors allows students to dig deeper into their areas of specific interest,” said Dr. McAllister. “One-size-fits-all doesn’t always make sense. At Ringling College, we are able to leverage faculty expertise and passion to nimbly adapt to the needs of our students and to the ever-changing landscape of 21st-century work.”
Developing innovative programs to prepare students for the future is nothing new for Ringling College. The Creative Writing program was completing its second year as Dr. McAllister came onboard. He has said often that “Writing is a crucial aspect of being a professional creative. At the core, creatives are powerful communicators, ideally across multiple media.” It was clear to Dr. McAllister that, like the Creative Writing program, the Business of Art and Design (BOAD) and Visual Studies majors, both relatively recent additions, felt tailor-made to Ringling students and to preparing them for success.
The opening of the Ringling College Museum Campus is yet another innovative approach to learning. With its Sarasota Art Museum, this new community-serving campus houses much of the College’s Continuing Studies’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Ringling College (OLLI) and Studio + Digital Arts programs. Part of Academic Affairs, Continuing Studies also includes Englewood Arts Center (EAC) and PreCollege, an outstanding summer program for talented high school students looking to get a flavor for what life and learning at an art and design college would be like.
Academic Affairs—and the innovative programs it develops to prepare students—is critical to the success of Ringling College of Art and Design. Understanding the landscape of the skills needed for success in the future where automation and Artificial Intelligence will so deeply impact the way we work and live—a future President Thompson calls the Creative Age—and responding to those ever-changing needs in meaningful ways takes vision, deep commitment, and creativity. Ringling College meets that challenge head-on.
By Ryan Van Cleave