Alumni Spotlight: Virginia Patterson
Virginia Patterson was studying graphic design in Auburn’s School of Industrial and Graphic Design (SIGD) when Professor Emeritus Ray Dugas suggested she might want to consider a teaching career. “There are many educators in my family so the idea wasn’t unfamiliar, but it’s not something I had considered in the discipline of graphic design,” she recalled. It turns out Dugas had the right idea; Patterson has just finished her second year as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Art, Design and Art History at Fresno State University.
Patterson graduated from SIGD in 2013 and later earned a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Houston. In 2018, she launched her own design consultancy, working with brands in the food and wellness consumer packaged goods sector and occasionally with nonprofits or locally based projects or organizations. Some of her clients include natural product manufacturer Asutra, innovative snack company Snackatere and dried fruit retailer Whitney Jordan Naturals. She recently completed the packaging and branding for a craft spirit brand and a new natural tea and has also been busy supporting several clients as they transition to more sustainable or minimal packaging materials. Patterson says that she shares her work with her students occasionally, typically when she’s facing a challenge or new industry trend. “I continue to learn a lot from my client practice, which in turn informs my teaching and what I can offer students,” she stated. “I share advice on process, communication and working with clients. I’ve also invited clients to speak to classes and share their perspective as brand owners or marketing directors, and these conversations are always very enlightening for students.”
At Fresno State, she currently teaches packaging design, typography and other graphic design courses. Her research focuses on food labeling literacy and the impacts of policy on graphic systems. Her favorite class to teach is packaging design, where she can bring her wealth of experience from her practice. “I love that students have to get off their computer or device screens and fold and cut and experiment with materials,” Patterson said. “I am constantly revising or introducing new projects or collaborations based on what’s happening in industry or based on opportunities within our university or region.” She has also been revising a course on the history of Graphic Design, which she’ll begin teaching this fall.
For those students who may be considering a career in academia, Patterson recommends that they go out and work as many roles as possible in the design industry. She says that it’s vital that professors be able to share those professional experiences and perspectives with their students, and she feels strongly about this since it was not actually the route she initially took. “I ignored this advice and went straight to graduate school after completing my B.F.A. I ended up leaving that program after one year, working in various design roles and then pursuing my M.F.A. later. I was much better prepared for graduate school and for teaching having had that industry experience.”
Patterson is grateful for the camaraderie she found among her classmates at Auburn and teaches her students to take advantage of the room full of creative minds that surround them, especially since classmates may someday become colleagues or collaborators. She also passes on to her students the lessons she learned when she was an undergrad. “I recall Professor Kelly Bryant saying ‘when you work, things happen.’ I don’t remember if this was a frequent phrase or if I only heard it once, but it stuck with me,” she recalled. “I repeat this phrase to students often, especially when observing a creative block or a hesitation to begin a project. I also emphasize the importance of craft and attention to detail. A brilliant design idea can fail if execution or attention to detail is poor or lacking.”