Faculty Spotlight: Associate Professor Ben Bush
For someone who teaches design, Ben Bush sounds a lot like the coach of a sports team. “We can accomplish so much more together as a team than we can individually,” he said. “If I want to get the most out of a studio as a whole, I need to establish and encourage a culture where students can compete with each other and support one another at the same time.” Bush, who is both an alumnus and faculty member of the School of Industrial and Graphic Design (SIGD), was recently promoted to Associate Professor of Industrial Design.
Bush earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in industrial design from Auburn before teaching at Savannah College of Art and Design and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He currently teaches Computer Aided Design, Professional Portfolio and third-year design studio – his favorite because of how the students bond over many hours design work. “The aspects of fun and teamwork go hand in hand,” he said. “We spend so much time together it feels like I get to manage and build up my own little design team.” Because the students work well together, Bush tries to delegate and transfer power to them. “A team of 15 students will always be able to troubleshoot an issue better than I can, so I try to leverage that to our advantage,” he stated. “My job is to have candid conversations, discuss options and empower them to take ownership of their own academic development, which at times oddly looks like cheerleading.”
One area of focus for Bush is his intentional attempts to introduce fun into the classroom as a way of increasing creativity. He wants his students to become comfortable with taking risks while also learning to depend on one another, and the best way he has found to do this is through playing games. Each Friday, Bush dedicates 45 minutes of studio class time to playing a different game, whether it’s a video game, board game or a “Minute to Win it” challenge. “It seems on the surface that we are playing around, but it’s actually an intentional investment into intrapersonal relationships, and it gets us more comfortable with taking risks,” he explained. “If my students have the shared experience of playing with one another then the shared experience of working with one another will go more smoothly.” He also dedicates class time throughout the week for students to explore gratitude and to share what’s going on in their lives, but game time is everyone’s favorite. “The two stand out games from this semester were ‘Throw, Throw Burrito’ and ‘Among Us,’” he said.
Bush’s teaching days are full. He teaches and meets with students every day and does prep work until midnight each night. For the past year, Bush has been spearheading SIGD’s mentorship program. “Advising seniors allows me to be a cheerleader for graduates as they start their design career,” he said. “I want to make sure that I put our seniors in the best position to be ready upon graduation, and it’s a joy to point them to our alumni in the field who are doing amazing work.”
In addition to teaching and advising Auburn students, Bush also works with Recruitment Coordinator Katherine Buck Chastain on the Shoe Design Outreach Project, a program he and Chastain developed to introduce design basics to high school students around the state who may not have access to a design studio education. He says that his own high school didn’t have art or design classes, and while he knew he liked “design,” he didn’t know there was a major that was perfect for his interests. “There are some fantastic young designers in our state who just don’t know that industrial design is an option, and it’s my dream to recruit them the same way we do Division I athletes,” he said.
In the summers when his teaching, advising and outreach schedules slow down, Bush finds time for consulting work. He designs graphics for local businesses and non-profits and recently created plywood seating for Sidetrack Coffee in Opelika, Alabama. He also does painting and embroidery and sometimes creates just for fun. “My workspace always has an ongoing project, and it’s always messy. Just as it should be!” he said.
As a fan of fun and teamwork, Bush says that one of the best parts of his job is seeing his colleagues every day. “I love the people that I work with!” he exclaimed. “I get to work in the same hallway as my mentors and role models. The camaraderie and support we have for each other is unrivaled. Simply put, it feels like I get to work with my friends.”