Hill & Partners first began working with the EDPA in 2013 and has since become an active member in the community, getting more involved with BSU as well. Our Designers, some who are BSU alumni themselves, are encouraged to activate this partnership by attending different EDPA events locally and nationally, developing relationships with industry professionals, and by growing as leaders in the industry themselves. Read below to learn about Assistant Creative Director & Senior Exhibit Designer Mike Vallone's first experience at the 2017 TAD Talks…
Until my trip earlier this year, my knowledge about the state of Minnesota was limited to sports teams and cheese-filled burgers. As an active member of the EDPA, I had also heard lore of the only undergraduate exhibit design program in the country at Bemidji State University in Northern Minnesota.
Only great things are said about the university’s exhibit design program, and I’ve been lucky enough to work with three of Bemidji’s finest students, now industry professionals, so I had very high expectations. I’ve also had the privilege of being involved in the EDPA/BSU mentor program for the past few years individually, and through Hill & Partners’ work with the organization over the last several years. When I got the call to represent H&P at the annual TAD Talks and Portfolio review, I was excited to say the least, but I had no idea what I was about to experience. This quickly turned into the theme of the trip…
After what could best be described as a marathon trek in St. Paul, from one end of what must be the largest airport in the world to the other, I “boarded” a “plane” for the last leg of my trip to Bemidji. I use the quotations to help paint a picture of what was the most unique flight experience I’ve ever been a part. I half-expected pontoons to deploy from under the plane to make a landing on a remote lake surrounded by pines- until the pilot described the weather as “23° and Snowing.” Suddenly I thought, “Skis, not pontoons.”
That flight was the beginning of what became one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. The majority of the people on the plane were industry creatives from all over the country. Brilliant, influential, and inspiring people that were carving critical time away from their normal routines to be a part of a portfolio review for about 15 students. I was lucky enough to spend the hour-long flight engaged in conversation about the future of the industry with one of the many industry leaders. It was a thrilling opportunity to pick the brains of some of the best and brightest before we even landed Again, I realized I underestimated the experience I was about to have.
The trip started with the TAD Talks, which stands for Technology, Art, and Design; it is Bemidji’s spin on the TED Talks. My first chance to mingle among the students, alumni and professionals did not disappoint. There was an incredible turnout and powerful, energetic excitement in the room for the distinguished list of speakers that were about to bestow key insights from their years of wisdom on us. I couldn’t wait to learn.
"Our team got really excited about creating a curriculum built around designing experiences, not architecture."
The standout for me was a performance, not a presentation. A father/son duo of Native American drummers captivated the audience with an unexpectedly palpable performance. The power of the chants and drums were undeniable, but the real energy came from the passion of the previously humble teenage son and the glowing pride of his father that came through during the performance. I definitely wasn’t the only one with goosebumps in the room, and I hadn’t expected that.
Up next on the agenda was the Advisory Board meeting, an opportunity to give back some of what we’ve learned in the professional world to help prepare the next generation. Expecting a round-table discussion, there was a little frustration in the room when we were instead broken out into groups and given an assignment. Once we were split into groups and our competitive spirits started to show, we quickly struck up some meaningful conversations. Our team got really excited about creating a curriculum built around designing experiences, not architecture. Here comes the unexpected part: So did every other group. The exercise, cleverly created by the Bemidji faculty, brought forward the overarching concept that we all want young professionals to know; it’s all about the experience.
I went into this trip with extremely high expectations, and at literally every step of the way I was caught off guard by how powerful my experience was. I was even more impressed by the people responsible for them. I’ve never met a community as collective, tight knit, and supportive as the group up in Bemidji (aside from Buffalo sporting events). If you ever cross paths with someone tied to the BSU design program (and if you are involved in this industry you will), I have complete confidence you’ll understand what I’m talking about. The energy they carry up in Bemidji is what brings people back every year to be a part of this amazing event. I was part of the family the moment our tiny plane landed in the frozen tundra, and they gave me more than I could have ever given them. Maybe you’ll even be lucky enough to visit Bemidji and have your expectations exceeded every step of the way.