PNCA: expanding minds (and balloons).

Image: Courtesy PNCA

The Pacific Northwest College of Art had a problem: How could it attract talented students too busy with career and/or family to pursue a demanding conventional master’s program?

So the faculty fashioned the MA in Design Systems, which welcomes its first students this fall. The new 40-credit program includes the same core classes as the 60-credit Collaborative Design master’s in fine arts, but scales back the studio time and drops the mentored capstone project. Whereas most MFA students find they have to quit their day jobs, the Design Systems MA barely cuts into a 9-to-5 grind. Classes meet twice a week in the afternoon and evening, and students can expect to earn their degree in 36 months.

Professors—hailing from Intel, Nike, OMSI, and other local powerhouses—up the stakes by bringing real-world predicaments to the classroom. Students might learn how industrial air pollution in Richmond, California, is walloping disadvantaged, lower-income communities. Or they might travel to rural Central Oregon to investigate strategies for removing invasive juniper trees and shrubs.

“A lot of people think of design as graphic design, how people draw things up,” explains program chair Peter Schoonmaker. “Design has morphed into a much broader concept.”

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