Fall Changes In Design Add Muscle, And Ease Path, To Degree

Changes to the Department of Design’s curriculum, including a new degree in Design Studies, reflect the industry’s growing role in solving a wide range of problems. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)

By Ahmed V. Ortiz

A comprehensive reimagining of the Department of Design’s curriculum that takes effect in the Fall 2020 semester strengthens its degrees while also smoothing the path to graduation.

The changes move existing degrees to the widely recognized professional-degree designation of bachelor of fine arts (BFA), while also establishing a new liberal arts degree, the bachelor of arts in Design Studies.

Professors John Forrest, Andrew Anker and Doug Dertinger spearheaded the collective effort, which is meant to provide many student benefits. Forrest is the department chair, Anker a former chair.

The new Design Studies degree acknowledges the growing mainstream adoption of design as an integral contributor to solving a wide range of problems, Forrest said.

The department historically conferred a bachelor of science in Graphic Design, a bachelor of arts in Interior Design with a concentration in Interior Architecture, and a bachelor of arts in Photography – the only stand-alone photography degree in the UC and CSU. The curriculum update includes changing the name of the Interior Design program to Interior Architecture.

Anker noted that the name change is crucial. Besides choosing fabrics, colors, lighting and materials, people traditionally referred to as interior designers also are trained in interior construction and building to code, including ADA and fire safety requirements. The change, he said, better reflects the skills graduates learn.

Also, many universities that offer a master’s degree in Architecture allow students holding a BFA to earn their master’s in two years rather than three, Forrest said, a significant benefit for students pursuing a career in architecture. 

“Alternately, if our graduates choose to earn their architecture license through the internship program rather than through university education, the BFA in Interior Architecture will reduce the required internship period by one year,” he said. 

“Offering both the BA and the three Design BFAs” – Graphic Design, Interior Architecture and Photography – “broadens the opportunities our students have to graduate with purpose and with plans for their futures that will contribute to their success and the success of their communities,” said Sheree Meyer, dean of the College of Arts and Letters. 

Overall, the new curriculum supports the important concept of broad interdisciplinary study by creating a shared lower-division core that applies to all the degrees. That core exposes students to history, theory and fundamental practice across all programs, allowing freer movement between each program to accommodate a student’s change in interest during the first year of study, Forrest said.

Creating this core was particularly important, Forrest said, because it facilitates students’ movement between majors.

The changes also remove barriers for transfer students who, upon entering Sac State, have had to take about a year of lower-division Design classes to fulfill department requirements. To amend that, the department began a collaboration with community colleges, including a daylong summit held in the Fall 2019 semester, to craft new articulation agreements and further align curricula.

The goal is for all regional community college Design courses to be 100 percent transferable at Sac State within three years. That, Forrest said, smooths the path to a degree while maintaining a high-quality education.

“The end goal for all four of these degrees is that (students) would be able to apply to the University, then move into the upper division just like any other major,” Forrest said.

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