• CORTtracking
  • beMatrix POP_banner ad
  • CORTtracking
  • Superior Logistics
  • beMatrix POP_banner ad
Share this post:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Exhibit design education is coming of age


Students work with Octanorm components as part of their exhibit design education.

A study by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) stated that the meeting and exposition industry is a $100 billion market, ranked 22 in contribution to the U.S. gross national product. Yet, few people in this industry have gone to school with it as our chosen occupation.

We have all done well falling into an industry, and grown to love it over time, becoming experts through trial and error, and by applying the formal knowledge collected from our actual college majors.

After completing my college degree, I found a job as an exhibit designer, always saying I would do this until I found a real job. Now, 38 years later, I fully realize this is a real job and an exciting industry.

For those of us who have been at this for a long time, it’s time to give back, as we are each thankful to have fumbled into a profession that we never knew existed.

Over the years, our industry has grown to provide educational seminars for those practicing in the industry, as well as the development of certification programs.

We were learning as we go and discipline of tradeshow marketing was unfolding as the secret weapon to use within the overall marketing mix of promotional choices. The term “integrated marketing” quickly became the popular strategy, with the tradeshow/events segment playing a strong role within the mix.

In 1978, I got involved with the Exhibit Designers and Producers Association (EDPA) as a board member. It was then I realized how many others have also fumbled into the business and grew to share my passion for the exhibit industry.

Exhibit design education was always a topic of interest, but was slow to get implemented.

BSU Classroom

Bemidji’s four-year degree in exhibit design now ranks as the leading undergraduate program in the U.S.

Various colleges expressed a desire to include exhibit design as a part of their curriculum. Auburn University, with the help of Gary Stewart, the EDPA president in 1991, created a 10-week course in exhibit design offered to industrial design majors. It was the first education program for exhibit design.

Other colleges had the vision to include exhibit design as an educational program as well. The EDPA spent years trying to lay the ground work at Drexel University, University of Illinois-Chicago and UNLV, but no cigar. Their intentions are to be applauded, but the politics of adding a new curriculum always had its challenges.

While all this was going on, Bemidji State University, in Northern Minnesota, was quietly seeking innovative areas of study to add unique value for its students after graduation. In 1974, Dr. Kermit Anderson and his peers had the vision to create a four-year degree program, a bachelor of science in technical illustration, which included multiple disciplines.

In 1985 the degree was changed to include a broader degree in graphic design. This degree continued to expand to include other specializations in design including exhibit applications.

In 1996, the program changed again from graphic design to design technology and was comprised of four specializations: Digital design/print, digital design/electronic, exhibit design and model design. The world of technology we now live in has shaped the design education within the exhibit industry.

Bemidji’s four-year degree in exhibit design now ranks as the leading undergraduate program in the U.S., providing the strong foundation needed to succeed in the world of exhibition, showroom, point-of-purchase and educational exhibit design.

During this same time period, a new degree program was being developed at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), a part of the State University of New York. In 2001, FIT launched was a masters degree in exhibit design. The program was jump started by an ex Exhibitgroup/Giltspur employee, Frank Rispoli.

EDPA then jumped in to help carve out the classroom content. After nine years, Professor Brenda Cowan has taken over the reins to steer the program to its new found success as it exists today.

Nearly 100 students have since graduated with the master’s degree.

The EDPA continues to support both programs. Today, the EDPA Foundation grants scholarship support, EDPA members take on students as interns and members donate free time to serve as instructors for classroom activities.

Exhibitor Show

EDPA, EXHIBITOR Media Group and Octanorm also assist both colleges by providing an exhibit at the EXHIBITOR Show.

EDPA, EXHIBITOR Media Group and Octanorm also assist both colleges by providing an exhibit at the EXHIBITOR Show. This partnership is called the University Affiliation Program. The purpose is for students from both schools to show their work, as well as to meet potential companies for employment.

“The number of jobs we can offer within our industry is nowhere near the number of openings available in other industries,” said Jeff Provost, director of EDPA. “With this said, we hope to focus our attention to support the Bemidji undergraduate program, and then encourage its graduates to go on and earn a master’s degree at FIT. Now we benefit from the best of the both programs. With this, we are fully nurturing the neurosurgeons of the marketing world.”

Anderson’s foresight has turned out quite a number of graduating students who have gone on to contributing success in our industry.

“With the help of EDPA and its members, Bemidji State will continue to strive to prepare exhibit design graduates who can hit the ground running and carry on the rich history which began with Dr. Anderson’s vision,” said Dr. Bonnie Higgins, Bemidji State exhibit design professor.

One Bemidji graduate, and a good friend for the past 10 years is Chris Dorn.

Chris exercised his internship, and was then hired at Derse Exhibits. He then went on to study and now works in Tokyo, Japan, where he met his wife and started a company called Idea International.

His understanding of the exhibit design industry in Japan and other Asian locations makes him a valuable asset to any design team serving customers abroad.

“The educational foundation I achieved from Bemidji State has enabled me to reach goals I never dreamed possible,” said Dorn. “The program offered at Bemidji State is great, if not the best, offered in the States.”

Some other noteworthy Bemidji graduates now working in our industry include Josh Frisbie of Hamilton Display; Justin Dworak, creative director for Star Exhibits & Environments; Jesse Henderson of Global Experience Specialists; Jeremy Engelman of Go West Events and Multimedia; Rachel Calkins, Brian and Clair Farrell of Freeman; Kristi Schmeling of Exhibit Concepts; Kelsey Stephens of The Trade Group; Steven Lukasik of Global Experience Specialists; John Hamari, president of Skyline Exhibitor Source; Aaron Bergan of Star Exhibits & Environments; Brent Toft of Exhibit Fair International Inc.; Jeff Janes, creative director of Global Experience Specialists; Shawn Bicker of Exhibit Fair International Inc.; Aaron Reitmeier, exhibit designer of Skyline; Ryan Lake of Czarnowski; Chris Albaugh of Trade Show Fabrications West; Jon Sosso, owner of Design at Fork; Kurt Knutson, senior designer of Freeman and Clarissa Lin of Star Exhibits & Environments.

Three Bemidji graduates who have been hired recently
• Mary Strukel – graduated December, 2009, hired Summer 2010 by Art Guild-Avalon sponsor Dave Chan.
• Aric Furfaro – graduated April, 2010, hired Summer 2010 by Hamilton Exhibits sponsor Dan Cantor.
• Mackenzie Kaplan – graduated December, 2010, hired January 2010 by 3D Exhibits sponsor Jon Horn.

EDPA Euroshop Winner

EDPA recently recruited FIT to design the EDPA exhibit representing the U.S. at Euroshop 2011.

There have also been many FIT graduates who have gone on to employment in our exhibit industry as well. All of whom have served an 8-week internship working for exhibit companies in the U.S. EDPA recently recruited FIT to design the EDPA exhibit representing the U.S. at Euroshop 2011.

The winner, Leslie Ann Chiu, student designer, will travel to Dusseldorf to see her design in action in later this month.

“It was not until 2005 when the NY State board of regents authorized the program and created the first student body,” said Cowen.

“We will be graduating our sixth student body this May. As chairman of the program, I commend the support we have received from industry professionals whose passion for their work influences each of our students.”

EDPA will continue its support education within our industry and extends a big thanks to Bemidji and FIT for their efforts. The effort has come a long way in improving our craft and the disciplines required for environmental design that support success in the world of face-to-face marketing.




People on the Move

National News

International News


Tradeshow Calendar

  • Momentum Management

Related Stories

Trending Now

  • Employco
  • DEMcNabb_
  • Brumark
  • Octanorm