Graduating Entertainment Design senior Susan Saulnier has had a busy decade. In 2015, she graduated from Ringling College of Art and Design’s Illustration program and went straight into a job as the College’s coordinator of student volunteerism and service-learning. Four years ago, she embarked on a new adventure — a second bachelor’s degree from Ringling College, and just in time to enroll in the Entertainment Design major’s inaugural class. She is the leader of this year’s Student Commencement Committee, responsible for the redesign of Ringling College’s 2023 commencement. She was also one of a select group of students to work with Wrenhouse Design on Ringling’s 2022 fundraising gala, Avant-Garde: Café des Artistes.
We caught up with Saulnier in the midst of her teeming schedule of full-time job, commencement committee, and full-time graduating student at the end of her last semester, to share some reflections about her exceptional education and career paths here at Ringling College.
Can you talk about your experience being a full time Entertainment Design student and working as Ringling’s coordinator of student volunteerism and service-learning?
Saulnier: It has been a whirlwind. The pandemic limited event design practice with my volunteerism coordinator events, but this year, I was asked to lead the redesign of what Ringling College’s commencement looks like. That has been the most enlightening, inspiring, and exciting project that I have been a part of so far, but I feel like I have said that a lot since being an Entertainment Design student.
How has your experience as a current Entertainment Design student been different to your experience as an Illustration student?
Saulnier: Right off the bat, life experience is such an amazing, wonderful thing. The first time around, I was always worried about getting in trouble, so I was that student; classic: “You said we had homework?” student. I attended Ringling College in 2011 as a traditional straight-from-high-school to college student. Come graduation in 2015, I had nothing lined up and I was burned out. I have always felt strongly about service work and giving back to my community, so when the coordinator of volunteerism and student-service learning position opened up, I knew I had to apply. After two years of an art break, I slowly started creating again. It was during this time that I started therapy and was diagnosed with anxiety and a sprinkling of depression. After taking care of myself, I started to grow and flourish, and most importantly, I started to put myself first. I began seriously reworking my portfolio and applying to design jobs. I remember being at The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen at Universal Studios, chaperoning a school trip with a friend, and we were talking about the new Entertainment Design major that had just been announced at the time, and what the program would be like.
I was excited to take what I learned from Illustration to Entertainment Design, especially with the expectation that I would be able to move through work faster, already having an understanding of computer design programs. What I was most excited about in Entertainment Design were the fabrication possibilities. I love working physically and traditionally. The first year of Entertainment Design, my class went to the woodshop to get certified and I got to use drills and saws for the first time.
Entertainment Design has felt more self-guided regarding areas of focus. For example, a favorite project of mine during sophomore year was a prop fabrication project. Everyone was required to design and create a prop for an experience that we created and pitched earlier in the semester. I designed and created a flower light, one classmate made a costume, and another classmate 3D-printed a doorknob. This project eventually became a class assignment for Entertainment Design majors.
Tell us about your leadership role on the Student Commencement Committee.
Saulnier: I was approached by Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students Dr. Tammy Walsh and Entertainment Design faculty Jamie DeRuyter in September of 2022, explaining that, this year being Entertainment Design’s first graduating class, I was the perfect fit to lead a redesign of the college commencement event. At first, I was terrified. I sat down and thought about commencement, what happened during mine in 2015, and every commencement I have helped work since. Maybe five students and I started in September, meeting bi-weekly, to brainstorm possibilities. We continued to reach out to the school, and soon we had at least one student representing each major. By December we had a pitch meeting, where we presented our goals and changes. Starting in January, we met weekly to start finalizing everything. We broke out into teams including Senior Week (many of the wishes and suggestions included celebrations with the entire campus), President’s Reception (a gathering for families to meet faculty, staff, and the campus community the night before the ceremony), Gifts and Giveaways (student-suggested senior gifts), Graduation (day-of ceremony planning), and most importantly, Accessibility. If I am honest, this is where the imposter syndrome hit me hardest because I was actively designing, but rather directing which was new for me.
I planned and led all meetings with the help of my phenomenal right-hand student, Sara Giovanello ’23, Game Art. I am the communicator between the students planning commencement and Student Life, who organizes (and controls funds) for commencement.
I really view myself as the conductor of the orchestra that is the commencement redesign, and the students have been the ones ideating, fabricating, calling vendors, and finding solutions to problems.
What are your top three highlights of your Ringling career – these could be projects, experiences, favorite faculty, etc.?
Saulnier: OOF THAT’S TOUGH.
1. Seongwoo Nam is my favorite faculty member and everyone in the department knows this. Why? The first day of his class, he sits us all down and explains that education is for us, and we will only get out what we put in. He explained that it’s his job as an instructor to help us along this journey, telling us to be patient with each other and be patient with ourselves; we are all on our own journey and must take the time we need to get to our best. As someone who has always had an issue with, and fear of authority, this was revolutionary for me. Since then, Seongwoo has been my go-to instructor for questions and advice.
2. Rocky Horror Picture Show Parade Float Assignment was my favorite project. Second semester sophomore year, the class was given a group assignment. We were imagining we were working on the NYC LGBTQ+ Pride parade and our class was a group working on four floats, dedicated to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The group as a whole had to come up with the overall look and feel of the floats, but we would then separate into our designated teams to work on our individual floats. We delegated poster design and the design intent packet, and at the end, we had four different but cohesive floats. This project helped prepare me for the commencement redesign and I loved seeing everyone ebb and flow through the process and then come together at the end with awesome scaled models.
3. Our Makerspace and maker classes (mold making and digital fabrication) were another favorite of mine. I have always loved traditional art because I get to use more than just my hands and I can get messy. Making a mess is the easiest way to get into trouble — and with a fear of getting into trouble, I loved the “approved messy time” (queue Isabella Madrigal’s song, What Else Can I Do?). These classes are led by Morgan Jassen and Noah Coleman, and were the classes I had always dreamed of taking. I got to learn how to design for and run a CNC machine, 3D printers, vinyl cutter, how to make a two-part mold, resins, silicone molds, and everything a fabricator could need to get started. For my final project in mold making, I made a life cast of my face to then sculpt and create a Who-nose from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. They were the most fun and educational projects for the field I know I want to get into.
What are your plans after graduation?
Saulnier: Ah yes, everyone’s favorite question for seniors. Currently, my post-graduation plans include celebrating the fact that I made it another four years at one of the most rigorous art schools while working full-time. One day after graduation, my husband and I are finally going on our honeymoon. We were engaged in the summer of 2019 after he proposed at Disneyland in California, in front of the Snow White wishing well, and we eloped in a secret on-campus ceremony on Feb. 29, 2020. The pandemic made us push our scheduled ceremony date of Dec. 6, 2020, to 2021, and with my classes, we decided to save up and take our honeymoon as soon as I graduate. We will be going to Iceland for a week and I will do nothing but relax and celebrate!
In her role for the commencement redesign, Saulnier led her team to make conceptual decisions on the design elements for the event: the program, invitations, and the tickets. The team followed the College tradition of using Pantone’s color of the year as their commencement color. The 2023 color is “Viva Magenta” and is described by Pantone as “assertive, but not aggressive. A carmine red that does not boldly dominate, but instead takes a ‘fist in glove’ approach.”
Commencement will take place Thursday, May 4, at the Bradenton Area Convention Center.