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UC Steers a Competitive Course: First Public University to Vie Head to Head with Auto-Design Elites  

Today, only four schools in the United States have full programs devoted solely to auto design and are the competitive players in preparing the next generation of car designers. Later in September, there will be five. UC becomes the first public university in the country to take on private institutions in the most competitive design field in the world – the transportation track. 

Date: 9/7/2005 12:00:00 AM
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Dottie Stover

UC ingot  

The University of Cincinnati starts a new track for design students this fall:  the Transportation Design Track, part of the industrial design program in the top-ranked College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning.  (National surveys routinely recognize UC as housing the nation’s No.1 interior design program and No. 2 architecture program.)

Kevin Dohn and his project are reflected in a studio mirror.

Now, the college is putting its considerable reputation behind a new track which will emphasize auto design along with other forms of transportation visioning.  And while all forms of transportation are fair game in the new program, UC is hoping to accelerate inroads it has already made in training students for the astonishingly competitive field of auto design. 

The new program actually grows out of years of individual design classes at UC – open on a competitive basis to students – and team taught by faculty of the college and working designers from General Motors, Inc., DaimlerChrysler, Mitsubishi Motors and American Honda Motor Co. Inc.

Only seven first-year students and 16 sophomore-level transfers have been accepted into the course.  One of the new students coming into DAAP is Clay Davis, 18, of Lexington, Ky.  He was on pins and needles waiting for word about whether he’d been accepted.  “He’s car crazy,” asserts his mother, Darlene.  “It used to be airplanes.  When he was four-years-old, I had to read him technical airplane books when I just wanted to read Dr. Seuss.  Now he lives and breathes cars.” 

Clay agrees, “If I’d studied math as much as I study cars, I’d have been class valedictorian.  My art portfolio of the last five years is 95 percent cars.  I think of cars as an art form, not mere transportation.  There’s not a car out there I wouldn’t change to better fit the individual who drives it.  Some day, I’d like to have my own company to design and build limited-edition, high-end cars.  That’s why I’m extremely excited about this program.  It’s everything I want.”

Also accepted into the program was Kerry Carson, 18, of Melbourne, Fla., who’s ready to come to UC in the Mitsubishi Eclipse she’s modified, altering the interior, trim, lighting, sound system and body.  “People are often surprised that the car is mine,” she admits.  “They usually think it belongs to a guy.  I’m probably the only girl in my high school who’s this car crazy, but that’s why I was so excited about the UC program.  I wanted something that combined my love of art and my love of cars.  Most industrial design programs are so general that I had to really look to find a program.  It would be difficult to find one to match it.”

Carson is right.  According to Stuart Shuster, long-time designer with GM and now educational relations consultant for the auto maker, UC is well poised to make a race of it.  He states that only two other programs in the United States are as competitive as UC in terms of preparing students for transportation-design careers – the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit and Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. 

“UC has the advantage over those programs in that it’s housed at a public institution and thus, more affordable,” said Shuster, adding that a designated transportation track is absolutely necessary to prepare students for the rigors of automotive design.

Brigid O'Kane and student Chris Kujawski

UC has other advantages to edge out the competition, according to Brigid O’Kane, a senior leader designer with GM for 10 years and now an associate professor at the university.  Because this newcomer program is located within a public university, the students must have a mix of skills and abilities for entry.  O’Kane explained, “All the other schools with a transportation track are private and accept students based only on a portfolio.  Because we’re public and must adhere to certain academic requirements for admission, we’re skimming the very top of design students for our program.  They have to have nearly perfect academic records as well as design talent.”

One reason for UC’s high standards: Students entering the new program will have to be concerned about a lot more than aesthetics to get through.  In planning the curriculum, O’Kane and her colleagues have already mapped out collaborative exercises that will mix design, business and engineering students in the same classroom doing the same project.  The students will have to work together in designing and building functioning vehicles.

One of the first efforts will be the redesign and rebuilding of GM’s EV1 (electrical vehicle 1). GM’s first-generation electric car is currently sitting in the design college’s third-floor lobby.  Students will be asked to study it, break it down, redesign and re-engineer a version that will be drivable on campus.  “No other design school can do a collaborative project with an engineering program in the way we can in the university environment,” states O’Kane.

First-ever co-op student accepted by Mitsubishi was UC's Gary Ragle

That’s all to the good since auto design is the most challenging form of product design, according to both O’Kane and Shuster.  That’s due to the breadth and depth of the requirements in which a designer has to consider, from internal elements like seating and instruments to external elements too.  Just how competitive can transportation design be?  O’Kane explained, “Right after I graduated from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, no one in the subsequent class of 1991 found work in the auto industry upon graduation.  This is such a highly selective, globally competitive design industry.  No one accepts second-best.” 

The private schools with transportation tracks with which UC will compete

  • Academy of Art University, San Francisco
  • Art Center College of Design, Pasadena
  • Cleveland Institute of Art, Cleveland
  • College for Creative Studies, Detroit

UC alums currently working in the design transportation field include Daniel Sims, general manager, Mitsubishi R&D America; Brian Smith, GM design manager responsible for designing the Cadillac Sixteen Concept; and the following designers and senior designers


  • Tim Anness
  • Jeff Gale
  • Kashi Honarkhah
  • Chris Welch

Ford Motor Company

  • Kevin George
  • Steve Gilmore
  • Mike Hemry
  • Kenny Moore
  • Dave Schultz

General Motors, Inc.

  • Stuart Shuster
  • Brian Smith
  • David Allen
  • Keith Fisher
  • Taki Karras
  • Robin Krieg
  • Garrick Zack

Honda Motor Co.

  • Nathan Brown
  • Ben Davidson

Mitsubishi Motors