Senior design exhibition ‘Catalyst’ encourages conversations for change

Trent Thompson

Senior design students hang up their projects on the walls in “Catalyst,” an exhibit at UT’s Visual Arts Center designed to evoke pause for thought and a greater understanding of the world.

“Catalyst” features the work of 12 seniors from the School of Design and Creative Technologies. The exhibit is the product of these artists’ yearlong endeavors to gather information, create solutions to problems that resonate with them, and generate physical works that catalyze conversation and social change.

The artists created these works for two senior design classes: Capstone Design Project in the fall and Capstone Design Exhibition in the spring.

One of the artists, design senior Stephanie Collins, said her project “Root Cause” addresses the lack of hair-care facilities and community for black students. Her project displays her research on the subject with a visually enticing graphic.

“It’s an evaluation of not only hair but community at UT for black students,” Collins said. “Some people want to be a part of a community, and some people just want the resources. This project is meant to address all of those students.”

Collins said her work is meant to serve others, as did design senior Alexander Kim. With his project, “Taste,” Kim combined his interests in design and public policy to create cookbooks in an effort to humanize the cultures of countries the United States is often at odds with — specifically Russia, North Korea and China.

“I began to think about how we can redesign diplomacy in a way that is non-partisan,” Kim said. “Through my research I was thinking that food has always been a great unifier. ”

Kim wants people who see his project to walk away with a better understanding of diplomacy and culture through his “cookbooks,” which are designed in the form of a diplomatic brief.

“Diplomacy shouldn’t have bias,” Kim said. “Set your predispositions aside and examine it from a blank slate. That’s what I assume diplomacy would be.”

Design senior Emily Lamontagne said that her project, “Clean Plate Club,” has a similar focus on food, serving as a loose guideline to healthy eating, and moving away from traditional strict dieting. The project consists of plates with portion sizes painted on them, suggesting well-balanced meals.

“The idea is to take dieting and eating well from the forefront of your mind and moving it to the subconscious,” Lamontagne said. “My conversation is more of an inner dialogue where you ask people to reflect on their own preconceived notions of health than trying to change the way people are doing things.”

In design senior Jessica Lin’s case, her project “Seek” attempts to generate a conversation with software. Her all-in-one web platform intends to make it easier for students to find classes they’re interested in.

“I’ve talked to so many people who thought a class would be a certain way and it turns out it wasn’t, wasting a semester,” Lin said. “(Researching) is definitely worth it sense you are going to spend a whole semester on it and thousands of dollars, might as well like it.”

Kim said he realizes in hindsight how intimidating and stressful this rewarding process was, stating that their senior exhibition was akin to writing a senior thesis.

“There was no hand holding in this process,” Kim said. “Knowing to just throw yourself into the water and just swim is something no one wants to do because it’s scary and you don’t know if you are going to drown. But I feel most of us just kept swimming and we’re just glad we made it to the coast.”