The moment before registering for classes can evoke a variety of emotions among students. Some experience excitement as they take a step closer to graduation. Others lose sleep from the fear of registering for a required course instructed by a professor known for stringent grading and high demands. Their fingers tremble with trepidation as they make the mouse click of no return. Many students, however, look back at their experiences with these instructors and realize signing up for a class was a decision they would never regret.
Graphic design professor Wendy Shapiro is known for her attention to detail and high expectations of students. While they acknowledge the difficulty of her class, Shapiro’s students agree they’re better graphic designers because of it.
Shapiro hails from Norristown, Penn., a small town outside of Philadelphia. Growing up in a family rich with a history of educators, she seemed destined to follow their footsteps. However, after taking four years of graphic design in high school, her love for the subject created a difficult decision for which career path to take. She eventually decided to switch majors from education to graphic design for her last two years of undergraduate study.
“I thought I would get tired of teaching after a period of time and my grades were so much better in graphic design,” Shapiro said.
She went on to work for the North County Times as its marketing and advertising designer. Instructional Technology Services at San Diego State also utilized her services as a graphic designer.
“After working in the industry for several years I thought ‘why don’t I just combine the two?’” Shapiro said.
To execute her new plan, she received her master’s in fine arts from SDSU and served as a teaching assistant.
“After teaching the first semester, I said that this is something I want to do with the rest of my life,” Shapiro said.
She is now approaching her sixth year teaching at SDSU.
Shapiro’s teaching style places a strong emphasis on paying attention to detail and encouraging students to think outside the box.
“I make them keep working on something for a really long time until they have exhausted all the ideas,” Shapiro said. “I’m a huge fan of craftsmanship. If the craft isn’t there, then you can’t even see the great design.”
SDSU senior graphic design major Alex Gray can attest to Shapiro’s demands on her students.
“We had to draw 100 stars and they all had to be different,” Gray said. “Everyone hated it and wanted to do less, but now as seniors we realize that it was really beneficial.”
Shapiro justifies her approach to teaching by reminding students how competitive the graphic design field is.
“Five out of 25 students in a class are going to get a good graphic design job,” Shapiro said. “You’re going to have to prove to those employers that you’re the best person for the job.”
This “no-nonsense” approach to teaching can be effective. However, great teachers understand the importance of balancing that with a genuine connection with students. Shapiro’s graphic design teaching assistant Lauren Fickling has personal experience with the professor’s lighter side.
“I connected instantly with (Shapiro),” Fickling said. “She’s really down to earth, a lot of fun and gives really good feedback.”
In her free time, Shapiro is an avid racquetball player and enjoys reading and going out with friends.
Shapiro draws her inspiration and excitement about graphic design from her students. “They bring new thoughts and ideas to me and I bring thoughts and ideas to them,” she said. “It’s this great collaborative approach.”