The Common Link: Creating Communities of Shared Passion
The room was filled with hushed chatter and anticipation as the newly recognized Dartmouth Design Collective held the organization’s first gathering earlier this week. The kickoff event featured a panel of four professional designers, two of whom were recent Dartmouth graduates. The panelists provided answers to questions from students and shared their own unique paths to careers in design. Panelist Ben Szuhaj ’19 explained how his own interest in design thinking began with the introductory course ENGS 12, “Design Thinking” — a comment greeted with a chorus of knowing laughs. The panel was attended by students of various classes and even professors, many of whom seemed to already know each other.
Anca Balaceanu ’20, the founder of the Dartmouth Design Collective, shared why she felt like it would be helpful to have more opportunities on campus for students looking to pursue careers in design.
“From my personal experience, I was swayed into the corporate recruiting path because there were no options for me on campus … to access design opportunities,” Balaceanu said.
Balaceanu also said she felt like there were not many connections between current students and recent alumni involved in design. Without these kinds of connections, Balaceanu emphasized, it is more difficult to break into companies like Spotify, Google or Microsoft. Thus, another goal of the collective is to foster relationships with professionals in the industry, especially Dartmouth alumni, so that students can start building that network, according to Balaceanu.
Balaceanu has worked at the DALI lab and as a teaching assistant for various design thinking classes, including COSC 25.01, “Intro to UI/UX Design I.” She expressed that the Dartmouth Design Collective hopes to unite designers in different groups across campus under a kind of umbrella organization.
However, Balaceanu also stressed that the group is about far more than just professional support.
“It’s not just about the members getting jobs in design,” Balaceanu said. “The ultimate goal is that, if you have a passion for design, to support you at every level, to practice your skills and for you to be ready for opportunities when they come along.”
Student initiatives to provide professional support and foster community within shared interests can be found in other under-represented fields as well. Women in Media is a community of self-identifying women with an interest in any aspect of entertainment, according to Jenna Thompson ’20, president and co-founder of the group.
Thompson described the impetus for her and her two co-founders to create this organization.
“We couldn’t really find any production groups on campus, and we wanted to allow people the opportunity to broaden their writing in all genres,” Thompson said.
The three women solidified plans for the proposed group over their sophomore summer, and now, with more than a year under their belt as a recognized student organization, Thompson said their purpose has crystallized into supporting and encouraging women interested in a field that has traditionally been perceived as male-dominated.
Thompson said that one of her hopes for the future of Women in Media would be to have women in the entertainment industry come speak to the group and even all of campus. Dartmouth’s own rich history of women going into entertainment has served as an additional source of inspiration with alumni like Connie Britton ’89, Rachel Dratch ’88. Mindy Kaling ’01 and Shonda Rhimes ’91.
“I think it would be really inspiring for the women at Dartmouth, for some of those alums to come back and share their path, because it’s an industry where there’s no laid-out progression of how to succeed,” Thompson said. “So I think it’s really important to hear that it’s possible from someone who shares a similar background.”
Building confidence in their work and their goals is also an essential part of what Women in Media tries to do for its members, according to Thompson. One of the organization’s most inspiring and rewarding activities, in Thompson’s view, is producing a capstone project each term. For the capstone project, members of the group produce a script someone in the group has written, assigning each other roles in directing, filming, acting and editing. Thompson noted the impact of seeing members of the group come together to support each other’s work.
“It’s really inspiring just to see everyone to take a piece of writing that’s not even their own,” Thomson said. “They’re so encouraged by the determination of that one woman that they want to see it succeed and want to see her succeed, and I think that’s why people come back to the organization, and I hope that’s why people keeping applying in the future.”
But guaranteeing sustained interest and effort, especially in such young organizations, isn’t always easy. Although the College is willing to award new student groups official recognition, the members themselves are responsible for keeping up the spirit and efforts of the organizations they join and inherit from exiting upperclassmen.
Indeed, the Dartmouth Design Collective has not been the first effort to create a group of its kind. According to Balaceanu, a former group called Design @ Dartmouth began around 2016 but has not endured. However, Balaceanu also said that the Collective’s efforts have been informed by the less successful past of other organizations and supplemented with the help of fellow student designers and faculty.
Engineering professor Eugene Korsunskiy, the faculty advisor for the group, described the actions being taken by the group to preserve longevity.
“[They are] making sure that leadership isn’t just seniors, but including ’21s, ’22s and ’23s as not only participants, but drivers of the organization,” Korsunskiy said.
Korsunskiy, who teaches ENGS 12, “Design Thinking” as well as ENGS 15, “Senior Design Challenge,” also remarked on the unique curricular and co-curricular relationship of the collective.
“All my students who come through Design Thinking every term, I let them know they are invited into the organization,” Korsunskiy said. “In that way, the group responds to a desire for more beyond the classroom, using the interest these courses spark and building on it.”
Whether students interested in career paths in design and entertainment choose to join these organizations or not, they represent a new opportunity to connect through shared passions, something that Balaceanu emphasized.
“It’s about linking people together, and making people feel closer, because they have this passion in common,” Balaceanu said.