Hometown Hero: YSU teacher gives students real-world experience

Thompson said the biggest reward is helping young artists

YSU professor and creator of Youngstown Design Works was named this week's Hometown Hero.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Teaching a college class can be a challenging job, but for one Youngstown State University professor, his students don’t just get a grade when they finished his course, they also get a resume.

This week’s Hometown Hero R.J Thompson is a professional graphic design artist and assistant professor in YSU’s art department. His experience ranges from running design departments to owning his own company.

Thompson said when he started at YSU, he wanted to give students the chance to get professional experience, as well as education. This led to the creation of Youngstown Design Works — a student-led graphic and interactive design agency that provides creative solutions to Mahoning Valley region non-profit organizations, small businesses and startup companies.

The program lets students create designs for businesses all over the Valley, giving them not only college credits but also building their resumes.

“When they have an interview with a prospective employer, the employer may say, ‘Oh, what class did you do this for?’ and they say, ‘No, this is real. This is absolutely real,'” Thompson said.

YSU senior Lindsay Ller said she was glad to be given the opportunity to work with Youngstown Design Works.

“That’s your work, seeing it out there helping a small businesses grow… That’s really cool,” she said.

All money received for work done by students for various clients goes right back into sustaining the program. Even more satisfying for Thompson is serving the Mahoning Valley.

In addition to helping businesses like the Alzheimer Network and Big Cricket Farms with branding and logo design, Youngstown Design Works also played a role in the rebranding and marketing efforts of the City of Youngstown and the Salem Public Library.

“It makes me feel great. I absolutely love the impact and the influence that Youngstown Design Works has; and I absolutely love how this community, however broad it may be, is embracing design as a solution to marketing problems, their communication issues, and there’s a greater appreciation for design as a result,” Thompson said.

At the end of the day, Thompson said the biggest reward is how the program helps the young artists.

“The greater meaning here is our students are more valued. They’re valued in the business community,” he said. “So, for example, they don’t have to go to a major market like Pittsburgh, or Columbus,or Cincinnati to get a design job. They can get one here, or create their own here.”

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