On cultivating a career
A conversation about RISD Career's extensive resources with Director Kevin Jankowski
Q So, in brief, what goes on at RISD Careers? What are you and your team trying to accomplish?
A We joke that everyone on our team has the empathy gene—we care a lot about students and outcomes. Above all, we strive to find ways to help students take this way of thinking and working—this education that they’re incredibly excited about—and find “RISD” out in the world.
Q How would you recommend first-year students make use of what you have to offer?
A They can set up a profile in our internship and job database Artworks, upload work to RISD Portfolios and connect with us on Facebook. We also tailor a program just for first-year students during Wintersession. And, of course, we hope that they all make appointments to meet with us (after all, it shouldn't be like getting a flu shot or anything!).
Q How is RISD’s career center different from career centers at liberal arts or research universities?
A Some aspects are fairly parallel to what you would find at an Ivy League or liberal arts university—résumé development, interview prep, learning how to network. But we try to give these things a RISD spin.
For instance, we'll use RISD's critique culture and project résumés onto a large screen. Students then engage in group discussions about how the résumé looks but also consider their overall career trajectories.
Annual Portfolio Reviews, our signature program, make it possible for nearly 3,000 interviews to take place in a single afternoon. Students receive valuable feedback from a number of industry professionals, which in turn helps them to effectively prepare for future internships and job opportunities.
Q In what way does your team support international students looking for opportunities after graduation?
A We offer specific programming, such as workshops with the Office of International Student Services regarding US-based internships and the work visa process. While international students often have broader considerations and require some advanced material prep, our advisors are here to give them personalized support through one-on-one sessions.
Q For several years running, RISD has earned the title of top producer of Fulbright fellows among specialized institutions. What do you think gives our students the edge when applying for this kind of opportunity?
A RISD accepts students for their art and design abilities, their academic achievement and their desire to immerse themselves in the things that matter most to them. Our Fulbright success is also a testament to the liberal arts component of their education, which feeds back into their studio practice. So when they apply for a Fulbright, not only is their work spectacular but their thinking about the world and how they want to engage with another culture is extremely nuanced and clear.
Q How important are internships for RISD students?
A Internships allow students to see how a creative team works and learn about the role a designer or artist plays within a given organization. At the same time, they’re able to build their skills and their professional networks, laying the groundwork for a future career path. We remind students that they should think of internships as a test kitchen where they can gain short-term experience, determine if a field or company is the right fit and go on to explore other options while they’re at RISD.
Q Do you advise fine artists to think about their career paths and prospects differently than designers?
A We encourage fine artists to see that establishing a studio practice is akin to starting a business. To that end we run a program during Wintersession with the New York Foundation of the Arts called RISD Artists as Entrepreneurs.
The goal is for students to understand that, like a business, they’re going to create work that needs to be marketed and promoted. They’ll need to identify grants, fellowships and exhibition opportunities. They’ll need to deal with contracts and legal issues and networking.
We also realize that while they’re establishing their practice, many artists pursue tangential careers to support themselves, be it through arts administration jobs, curatorial experience, teaching positions or other opportunities. Increasingly, many have embraced fields where they’re able to use their design skills to supplement their studio practice. We direct students towards these opportunities as well.
Q What advice do you give students who have very specific career paths in mind?
A We want to help them to accomplish their goal and be informed about the things they need to do to make that happen. Your path might not be as straightforward as you’d first imagined it, but one of the things we know from surveying our alumni one year after they’ve graduated is that over 90% of them have found an opportunity they consider to be either directly or indirectly related to their studies, which makes us really proud.
Q Any favorite success stories about an especially good match?
A I love how creativity and art and design thinking pivot and evolve across a student’s education. One student comes to mind—she has flourished as a painter and sculptor and was the recipient of the RISD Parents Council Award, which enabled her to complete a summer internship working on a public art installation on Governor’s Island. She was really energized and excited by this exposure to New York’s arts community.
That same student came back to the career center expressing an interest in architecture, wanting to know how she might find another summer opportunity related to that field. We encouraged her to reach out to the New York Architectural League, to tell them how she has synthesized these various modes of thinking—and as a result, they offered her a full summer internship. I’ve noticed her work has evolved further still. She’s now employing architectural concepts in her fine art practice.
Q You’re a RISD graduate yourself….you majored in Illustration. What has your career path been like? How do you think the job market has changed since you graduated?
A Coming to an institution like RISD opened up my world. It clarified that the passions I had were not from youth or inexperience but could actually be sustained over a lifetime. I’m excited about the power of this education and believe that it can do for every student what it did for me.
As for my own career path, I freelanced for 12 years after graduating and was able to apply my illustrative talents to the publishing field. I learned what it is to manage a business and became well versed in many of the skills we teach. Being a RISD alum—and having access to an incredible network of classmates and faculty—has given me the broadest bird’s eye view of how art and design can be applied to our world, not only in expected places but unexpected places as well.
Q It’s rumored that you tend to a pretty amazing vegetable garden during the summer. Any crossover wisdom gardening has given you that might apply to pursuing a creative life?
A Yes! I’m obsessed. I’ve been at it since I was five. You start in the winter with an almost irrational excitement about what the garden will be. You envision and you plan—so much so that you can almost smell it. Then you have to put the hard work into making it happen. You have to believe that it’s going to pay off in these beautiful vegetables and herbs and flowers. You go day-to-day as a purveyor of your creativity. You start to see results. At the same time you’re also impacted by external forces—by weather, by insects, by deer, by things you can’t even imagine...a hail storm that destroys your garden in July. But because it matters so much to you, you stay with it. And I would say that almost all of this pertains to the creative process I see at RISD.
Q Your own son recently left for college. What advice have you given him about finding the best path?
A I have the best job imaginable because I get to work with students who are in a phase of life that’s full of change. They’re simultaneously excited and concerned about their future.
At the same time, as a parent, I completely share the concern about where will this all lead? I’m living it firsthand having a sophomore in college. Though my son is majoring in economics and sustainable food and agriculture, he grew up in a family of artists and designers and he sees the value art and design can bring to other fields. He’s constantly aggregating his interests and being changed by his education.
Students are, in many ways, creative projects unto themselves. I've learned to let that project unfold with a certain amount of freedom and openness, while offering tools to help them utilize their education. That's especially what I hope I'm providing for my son and for our students, too.
*2016 figures from RISD Career Center