ALUM PERFECTING THE ART OF THE IMPOSSIBLE
One-time graphic design student Shane Wolf’s cooperative education work quarters at the University of Cincinnati led him to a job he wasn’t even looking for – working in the French Alps as a designer of ski equipment for an international sporting goods company.
That, in turn, led to an enduring partnership between the company – Salomon – and UC’s Professional Practice (Co-op) Division as well as global travels for Shane.
And it’s why Shane is particularly grateful for the cooperative education quarters he had while at UC, designing for firms like Fitch Inc. (retail designers) in Columbus, Ohio; Salomon in Boulder, Colorado; Pentagram Design in New York City; and Hunt Design Associates(wayfinding/branding) in Pasadena, Calif. He states, “Co-op is the best way to find out about the profession, what it’s really like in the field. It’s education that directly translates to practicing a career.”
Co-op is also a chance for the profession to get to know students, and it’s because of his co-ops with Salomon that Shane was hired by the French sporting goods maker to work in the company’s Annecy, France, headquarters.
Shane is the perfect example of the opportunities co-op creates. He admits that when he first went to work as a paid, co-op student for Salomon in Boulder, Colorado, he didn’t even know it was a French firm. “They had located an American office in Colorado because that was the firm’s target market for skiers and snowboarders. However, when I first arrived in 1999, I really knew little about the firm. There were about 40 people working in that office, and some of them would be speaking French. I literally thought, ‘Dude, what is this place?’… But it all turned out great in the end.”
“When I graduated, I’d received some tentative offers from some of my co-op employers, but I really wasn’t tempted. I really wanted to travel. Then, I got a call from my co-op supervisor from Salomon. He was now back in France, and he said he wanted to fly me there to interview. I immediately said yes… though, partly, because I figured it would be a great trip if nothing else.”
But it turned into quite something else after Shane interviewed with Salomon during a whole week’s time. He was hired as one of two graphic designers for the company’s Alpine team, which also consisted of three product designers and a director. And he himself became a mentor for others since Salomon welcomes European students as interns into its offices located in the medieval French town located on the border with Switzerland and Italy.
Recalls Shane, “I quickly became interested in forging a co-op link between Annecy and UC because I was consistently disappointed with the student interns who came to the firm from all over Europe, but I knew it was going to be a tough sell because of the culture and the traditions of the firm. They normally didn’t pay interns, and it was going to be a hassle for them to do all the required visa paper work that would allow U.S. students to come and work there. So frankly, I knew I had to wait till my French language skills were good enough to defend the idea.”
When that time came after Shane had been working for Salomon for about two years, he asked UC to send over a set of student portfolios to him in Annecy. “One portfolio stood out in the batch they sent, and that student, Andrew Nielson, became our first UC co-op at Salomon in Annecy. And after that first co-op came and showed what he could do, I had no need to defend that fact that UC requires that its co-op students be paid,” adds Shane.
Other UC students have since followed that first student in the six-month Salomon co-ops even though Shane left the firm in 2004 to pursue his goal of global travel. “One of the things I’m the most proud of in terms of my accomplishments at Salomon is making that connection between UC and the firm. I don’t think they would have done it if I hadn’t pushed for it because the U.S. and French corporate systems are so different that, sometimes, it’s a difficult mesh. It means a lot to me that the co-op connection is valued enough that it continues there even though I’ve moved on.”
Shane moved on and kept on moving in 2004 after his apartment building in Annecy literally burned to the ground. He had been thinking of moving on from the firm because he didn’t want to become stale in his skills; however, he was undecided at the time, thinking he might stay on at Annecy for a couple more years.
Then, he claims, the decision was made for him. “I was traveling in the Dijon region of France on a wine-tasting tour. Well, in wine cellars, cell phone reception is impossible. When I came out of one establishment, I saw that my phone had 17 missed calls. Someone was calling me to tell me the whole block where I lived had burned. No one had been hurt, but everything I owned in the world was gone except for the clothes that I was wearing.”
The best part about his trip, he says, is the time and freedom it gave him to think and reflect. Writing and sketching informally every day, Shane found himself more and more interested in fine art drawing.
“I’d always told the co-ops who came to us: ‘Don’t neglect drawing.’ It’s the root of our profession. But, in traveling, I realized how much I liked drawing for its own sake,” says Shane.
Then, a stop at the Getty Center in Los Angeles put Shane on a new course. Back to Europe. This time, Italy.
“I visited the Getty, and I saw that they were going to have a visiting artist from India lead an after-hours drawing class on a first-come, first-served basis,” explains Shane. “I was there four hours early to make sure I got into the session.”
Since Shane was interested in classical, figurative drawing, that visiting artist suggested Florence, Italy, as the best place for study. So, while continuing his travels, Shane applied to the Angel Academy of Art in May 2005.
He laughs, “I actually sent the application from India and found out I was accepted as I came down from the Himalayas. Now I knew my next destination.” In September 2005, Shane began art studies at the school. And he just found out about two weeks ago that he’s the winner of a prestigious scholarship usually reserved for more advanced students.
The recognition is a fitting finish to Shane’s first year of study in Italy – though, like some of his earlier opportunities, somewhat unexpected. “Actually,” he admits, “I was just hoping for an honorable mention because I knew that students who were more advanced in their studies would also be submitting.”
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