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Touro Summer Design Lab Helps Students Take Their Skills to the Next Level

How one group of students is staying connected and creating content for real-world clients during their summer break.
By Elizabeth Nelson

For many students, summer is a time to put their laptops aside and take a much-deserved break from studying. But as vital as it is to relax and recharge, maintaining some semblance of structure and keeping their skills sharp is important, too. That’s why Touro Professor Kevin Sartain created his Summer Design Lab, where students have the chance to work on projects and problem-solve in a group setting—and even get the opportunity to build their portfolios and work with prospective clients. “I’ve been wanting to do this for many years,” Sartain explains. “With all of this weirdness we’re going through, working from home and teaching on Zoom, I decided this was the perfect time to give it a go.” Though the program was originally intended to focus on web design — Sartain teaches web design — it organically turned into a general design lab, where both undergraduate and graduate students work on a variety of projects.
“I’ve got about 13 students, and we meet once a week, on Wednesday afternoons, for an hour or two,” says Sartain. “We’re creating an online gallery to showcase the best work from both the grad and undergrad programs, and we’re also working on a bunch of marketing flyers for Touro. It’s really cool, because it’s different from their regular classes,” he says. “Instead of just creating things for their portfolios, they’re actually dealing with a client and creating something real.”

The value of real-world experience

Sartain says that many of his students have never before worked with actual clients, and through this Summer Design Lab, they’ll get to experience the difference between creating designs for their own portfolios and making them for someone else. “I have eight students working on the Touro flyer, and the client is only going to choose four designs. That means the other four are going to have to learn how to cope with rejection—just like in the real world.”

For students, the value of having something in their portfolio that they created for a client can’t be overestimated. “When you graduate, it’s huge if you have something to show that you actually did for a client, because people want to see that you can deal with that. It’s easy for students to put 20 great-looking things in their portfolios that they spent months on. But when you put something in there that had a deadline, when you had a client that was telling you what to do, it’s a big deal.”

A request from a small business sparks an assignment

The inspiration for another project Sartain’s students are working on came from close by—across the street, in fact. “I became really good friends with my neighborhood dry cleaner,” says Sartain. “One day he asked me if I could build an app he could use to schedule pickups and deliveries, collect payments, things like that. I said sure, but I might just have my students work on it, and he said that would be really cool.”

Sartain is having his Summer Design Lab students work on a logo for the app, and design the front end elements, and plans to develop the backend himself later on. In the meantime, students will learn the different stages of web design, from wire-framing to building a fully responsive website. “I want some of these students who aren't web designers to just get a taste of it,” says Sartain.

An international team works together

Students use the free, online website- and app-building tool Weebly to work on their projects—although one student, who is attending the Summer Design Lab from her home in the Ukraine, found that Weebly was blocked from the country. “I’m having her switch over to working on the Touro marketing flyer, and another student, who is in Brazil, will move over to the Weebly team,” says Sartain.

It’s just another day in the life for any Touro professor, since the school takes pride in having a student body that hails from around the globe. The Summer Design Lab students have chosen to participate in this new course, which is tuition-free for enrolled Touro students and doesn’t offer credit hours, simply because of their passion for learning and their desire to take their skills to the next level.

See you next summer?

“I’d love to have other professors offer this in summers to come,” says Sartain. “I think we should have a bunch of these, and give students a wide range of subjects to choose from. I’m hoping to do a Web Design Lab next time.” Sartain’s students are currently creating a logo for the Summer Design Lab—keep your eyes open for it next summer!

Interested in learning to create websites, design flyers, build apps, and much more? Learn more about the programs at Touro’s Graduate School of Technology and what they can do for you.