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Auburn University's Futures Studio providing impactful experience

Posted: 20th December 2022 09:16

Roughly 220 miles south of the "Loveliest Village on the Plains," a group of talented and dedicated Auburn University students are working hard to extend the reach of their university while gaining valuable experience that will propel them into their careers after graduation.

Mobile, Alabama's Futures Studio—a satellite installation where industrial design students can learn the skills they will use as professionals—is a special place where experiential learning is at its zenith and Auburn Tigers are combining creativity, classroom learning and artistic instincts to tackle real-world problems. Whether it is designing a better product, helping streamline an operation, providing businesses with extra resources or developing new and innovative ways to achieve tasks, Auburn's Futures Studio students are on the cutting edge of collegiate satellite learning.

With clients and partners that include The Alabama Contemporary Art Center, the City of Mobile, Rogers & Willard Inc. and the Auburn University Shellfish Lab, Futures Studio students work hand-in-hand with partners to collaborate on projects of all kinds.

"It's felt like an honor to be a part of it, because we get to participate with real people and help out local companies in the area," said Luke Dixon, a junior in industrial design. "It feels like I'm putting work out that's actually going to get used and get appreciated by people who are excited about what we're doing just as much as we are. That real experience of understanding the client, rather than your professors, and the material is just a step beyond what most programs should and could be."

A program of the School of Industrial and Graphic Design in Auburn's College of Architecture, Design and Construction, Futures Studio operates under the vision of the mantra "Study Beyond." Students alternate time between Auburn's campus and Mobile, working and living together in Mobile for weeks during the semester.

The teaching and outreach program is open to third-year undergraduates, as well as graduate students, and provides a professional work setting and the chance to work with businesses to complete a variety of projects and tasks.

"We have a really close relationship with our clients, and we're getting a lot more real-world experience," said Annie Bach, a junior industrial design major. "I think that the way our projects are structured is really less of an assignment and more of a project for our clients, which is what we'll be doing in real life. We're not just trying to do the work to get a good grade, we're trying to make it really good because it's going to be something real."

In years past, Futures Studio students have helped complete projects for clients like the City of Mobile and Carnival Cruise Line, as well as businesses located in Birmingham and as far as Mississippi and Pensacola, Florida.

Variety is a central theme of the studio's project lineup, with students working on everything from diaper bags, litter removal devices and deer feeders to business signage, a fabricated steel natural gas fire pit and Mardi Gras floats.

The students' work is geared toward improving and streamlining product design to increase efficiency and maximize quality. The studio space includes a workroom and workshop on the top floor of the old Mobile Press-Register building, giving students a unique and creative atmosphere in which to work.

"Futures Studio provides a study abroad experience without having to go abroad," said Zack Kohrman, industrial design lecturer and Futures Studio site director. "Instead of it being a teacher-student situation, it's more of project manager-project teammates, and it's a very different dynamic because we're tackling relevant projects in such a way that we're giving new results and giving an experience that you can't get from the traditional classroom. Communication, ideation, fabrication—all of it's covered, and all of it's in the portfolio."

The studio gives students a non-traditional setup different than the traditional classroom, one they will experience firsthand in the workplace after graduation.

"It's an adventure," said Randy Bartlett, founding director of Futures Studio and a CADC professor emeritus. "Study Beyond is an opportunity to get outside the campus, and it's really all about the students. When our students graduate, they don't just have a diploma, they have the kind of experience and portfolio they'll need to be successful in their careers."

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie's Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn's commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.

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