Award-winning graphic design program at City College offers students path to career

Awards for student work are changing the perception of a community college graphic design program


City College graphic design student Ksenia La Russe touches up a handbag she is shooting for a project while Professor Bradford Prairie works on another project behind her, April 11, 2023. Photo by Sean Monney/City Times Media

Sean Monney, Multimedia Journalist

The work of students and professors in the City College graphic design program has not only earned the program international recognition but also built impressive portfolios that pave career paths for students.

Natalie Holland is a City graphic design graduate whose brand project “Heirloom” was recognized by the World Design Brand Society.

Now living in Charleston after graduating from City last May, Holland explained that the program encourages students to diversify their portfolios by branching out into all areas of graphic design.

The graphic design program at City covers everything from web design and branding to product photography and packaging.

“I’ve been told by people up in New York and here in Charleston that my portfolio is much more impressive than local design schools that they’ve seen,” Holland said. “And we really have a leg up with what we’re showing.”

Holland now works freelance doing branding projects for restaurants, but she had a previous career in apparel design.

According to graphic design professor Bradford Prairie, the City program is an education stop for many career transitioners and college returners.

“They go to work every day and it’s either soul-destroying or they have this creative itch that they really need to scratch,” Prairie said.

Prairie explained the main focus of these students is to create a portfolio at a professional standard so they can get hired. And the program helps them do that.

“Portfolio classes are intensive,” said Meli Cervantes, another City College graphic design graduate. “But [the professors] really push you to revamp your projects to make them more current and what the industry is looking for.”

Graphic design students Soloman Garcia and Khristine Samson lean over a desk working on a paper project in a graphic design workshop classroom.
Graphic design student Sean Sullivan, left, prepares a photo shoot of one of his projects, while Soloman Garcia, center left, and Khristine Samson, center right, work together while professor Bradford Prairie, right, reviews a student project, March 21, 2023. Photo by Sean Monney/City Times Media

Cervantes is also a college returner, having previously studied interior design at San Diego State University.

Before her studies at City, Cervantes had thought of community college only as a transitory education and recalled community colleges having a bad reputation.

But when the director of a design agency told her about the “amazing projects” produced by City, she decided to give the program a shot.

After graduating, Cervantes said the academics at City are comparable to SDSU, but with the added accessibility of a community college.

Cervantes had also won a WBDS award for her brand project “Liberty Girl,” and now works as a junior designer.

The portfolio coursework is not easy on students, with Holland calling it a “grueling year of school” and Cervantes describing it as a “24/7, full-time job.”

Professor Prairie knows the rigor of the program can put a lot of stress on students, and all the professional industry work they regularly see can add unrealistic pressure.

But Prairie believes the award-winning work produced by City students can demonstrate the quality of the graphic design program.

“To be able to produce that kind of work is something that really motivates me,” Prairie said. “And I think it’s big for the students. It’s really humbling, inspiring and motivating.”