Winter 2001

Diaspora into New-Media Industry For Grads in Electronic Design


hen Carlos Carranza, Class of '97, enrolled in the first web design class offered in City College's Art Department in 1996, he could not have imagined that, in four short years, he would be designing and producing Web pages for the SCI FI Channel's specials and original series. He loves the job.
Web Designers

Four CUNY website designers, from left: Eduardo Cueva, Alexander Castillo, Ming Xiong, and Carlos Carranza. Above an example of Castillo's work; below, a Cueva Web page.

"We hired Carlos because of his thorough understanding of the then-burgeoning field of HTML/Web development," said Craig Engler, Executive Producer of SCIFI.COM, says of Carranza, who majored in Electronic Design & Multimedia. "He clearly 'got' the developing medium of the Internet at a time when few people realized the Web would be as revolutionary as it has since grown to be," Engler adds. "Only after we hired Carlos for his HTML work did we realize we had also picked up a world-class designer who would go on to spearhead thelook and feel of SCIFI.COM as a top entertainment destinationon the Web."

In fact, Viacom, the parent company for the SCI FI Channel and USA Networks, was so pleased with Carlos that it hired four other CCNY multimedia grads in the space of about three years. Alexander Castillo-currently an Art Director for USA Network- works with a team of graphic designers and on-line producers on the Web site that supports the TV channel.Classmates Eduardo Cueva, Ming Xiong, and Marlon Jackson started with USA/SCI FI as freelancers, and have since become full-time designers.

Other recent graduates of City College's program in Electronic Design & Multimedia work in print, interactive media, and telecommunications in such "hot" new start-ups as Oxygen.Com and long-established giants like Time Warner and J. Walter Thompson (see sidebar).

The Art Department at CCNY is home for one of the largest, most comprehensive and venerable programs offering a digital arts and media curriculum at CUNY, thanks in no small measure to Internet artist and City College professor Annette Weintraub.

Back in 1983-when computer graphics was limited to expensive proprietary systems, print and broadcast media were still analog, and the Internet was largely the domain of computer "techies" and the military-Weintraub saw the potential for explosive expansion of opportunities for new-media design professionals in the local metropolitan area. Sci-Fi  Website Her instinct was correct: New York City is now widely recognized as the hub of "content creation" for artists and designers fluent in the new technologies. By 1990 the program had expanded from a handful of stations into a state-of-the-
art- facility in the Art Department's newly renovated building.
This was home for faculty whose credits ranged from a long career in art direction at CBS Records (Ed Lee), to principal of a leading handmade book press (Richard Faust), to an award-winning illustrator (Tim Okamura).

In 1995 Weintraub was joined by professor Kevin McCoy, a multimedia specialist who is now interim director of the Center while Weintraub is on leave. In keeping with the long tradition of City College, the mission of the Electronic Design and Multimedia Program is to provide high-quality, cost-effective training for a culturally and economically diverse student population-and to encourage the entry of these students into professions in which minorities have traditionally been poorly represented.

Now, the Department offers both a B.F.A. in Electronic Design & Multimedia, which is a professional degree in design for print and interactive multimedia and the Web, and a B.A. in art with a specialization in digital media. Both programs emphasize a foundation in the principles of basic design as the prerequisite to intensive studio practice for a variety of visual communications media. They include broad offerings in electronic design, publishing, 2D multimedia, animation, and digital video. While the B.A. specialization is open to CCNY students in the College of Liberal Arts and Science, the B.F.A. requires a portfolio review, and admission is competitive.

Serving more than 125 majors, the multimedia curriculum builds skills in typography, design and imaging, and visual problem-solving-all of which are completely integrated into digital technology. Using industry standards in hardware and software, CCNY students gain practice in both concept and production through free-lance projects and internships in publishing, Web design, interactive multimedia and motion graphics at companies that include Sony Music, MTV, and CBS New Media.

The heart of CCNY's multimedia program is the Robinson Center, established in 1994 by Herbert Robinson, Class of '37, and his brothers Jerry and Bernard. In this media lab students explore emerging and experimental forms of electronic media, as well as traditional modes of publishing, typesetting, and printing.

Monica Kirwan, now a designer at Oxygen Media, clearly had some of the long hours she spent at the Robinson Center in mind when she offered this advice to its current denizens: "If the Professor asks you for three versions of something, make six or ten. Practice, practice, practice, and more practice will make you a better designer. I remember working with a Design Director and looking at his 'scratch file' and learning that he made sixty-four versions before he arrived at the final version of a design."

Early in the morning and late at night, weekdays and weekends, the Robinson Center is humming with the activity of students taking Kirwan's advice. USA Network Website The Program has developed strong ties to the new-media industry. Part of its success lies in giving students "real world" work experience, notably through participation in the New York New Media Alliance's Intern Program, which places students in Silicon Alley summer internships.

Robinson is also a member of the New Media Centers Consortium, a national partnership between leading academic centers engaged in new media research and the corporations that will employ their graduates, including Adobe, Cisco, Compaq, and Microsoft. In addition, the Robinson Center has developed long-term partnerships with some of the leading hardware and software vendors. Its labs are supported through partnerships with Macromedia, Inc., Netopia, Terran Interactive and other leading digital technology vendors.

What makes the graduates of the Electronic Design & Multimedia Program so attractive to industry employers? Hilary Moskowitz is the Executive Producer for USANETWORK.COM.

Describing Alexander Castillo, she says, "Alex brings more than just professional skills. His creative thinking and extensive knowledge give him the flexibility to find more than one solution for each given challenge; in addition to his ability to collaborate, this increases our ability to provide a richly diverse site."

Monica Kirwan, at Oxygen Media, adds another important dimension: "I came to this country eleven years ago with no money and big dreams. I couldn't afford a private school, but I worked really hard to put myself through college. One of the biggest strengths of City College's students is the life experience we bring with us, and that is something to be very proud of. No, we're not the trendy school downtown, but we do have talnt and strength, and that is the message we send to employers." Spoken like a true graduate of the trendy school uptown.