AIGA OC Mentorship Program: Where the End is Just the Beginning

Promoting community, building relationships, creating inspiration and learning are AIGA Orange County’s biggest values—nothing does that better than PowerUp! AIGA OC’s Mentorship Program.

Starting in October 2015, the new PowerUp! program kicked off. Mentors and mentees were assigned to one another to set actionable goals to be completed over several months, helping each mentee achieve career goals, explore ways to improve skills, and share insight and inspiration. The inaugural program came to a close in February 2016 at the February OC Mix where I had a chance to meet up with some of the participants to gain a bit of insight about the program’s successes in meeting the needs of the AIGA OC members.

First, I met with Jamie Stark, Mentorship Director and mastermind behind the PowerUp! program, also a mentor, instructor at LCAD, and Principal and Creative Director of Stark Designs. As an experienced designer, I asked him why he would recommend the Mentorship Program. Pleasantly surprised by the question, his face glowed with youthful passion, “Because I remember my best experiences. I was in my 20s and I learned a lot from top designers and directors I worked with.” He wants others to experience the same and created the program to make that happen. He enjoys working with young designers and watching them grow. As a designer and mentor, he finds it highly rewarding on a personal and professional level. His goal is to help designers succeed and he hopes that by imparting lessons of the business and an understanding of design that that will happen and it will in turn provide a positive uplift to the design industry.

I asked him where he saw the future of design. Jamie feels it is a troubled industry. Many factors are at play but the main challenges involve technology and globalization. However, Jamie believes these challenges can be met through education, professional outreach and growth. That is why the AIGA OC’s educational programs are important. In citing what makes the AIGA OC so unique he points to the great deal of enthusiasm of the members and the inspiring passion and leadership of chapter President, Lauren Vajda.

This passion was evident at the February closeout event and you didn’t have to look any farther than current mentees, Archie Bagnall and Jimmy Melendez. Laughing and chatting, both mentees were eager to talk about their experiences with the program and both found themselves in complete agreement as to the program’s effectiveness.

The first and most obvious question I had to ask was “what were you looking to get out of the program?” Both resoundingly said they wanted to get to know and build a relationship with a more experienced or “wiser” designer. This was a major incentive for both and Jimmy went further to state “I was really looking to improve myself. I wanted to look up to someone.” They both wanted to push their skills and found the PowerUp! program a wonderful opportunity to do that.

They both laughed and excitedly talked about one of the most rewarding aspects of the program was the honesty. They felt that the longer more developed relationship built throughout the term of the program allowed them to really get to know their mentors. It allowed both mentor and mentee to get to know each other well enough that they could have open and honest conversations. As opposed to a 5 minute meet-and-greet, there was a bit of freedom and both agreed this was one of the key components on why they found the program rewarding and a push toward their professional development.

Both mentees highly recommend the program and as a designer with more experience, Archie feels it is a great opportunity for designers of any level. “You get a sense of where you are at.” Jimmy agreed and added that it was also “a great way to network and get to know the design community.”

One member of that design community is mentor Chris DeCaro. Nobody displays more enthusiasm for design and the profession than him. Jokingly when asked about the design profession, he quotes the opposite of the old Nike slogan “just don’t it.” But in all seriousness, he is extremely passionate about helping young designers avoid making key mistakes that he made when he was starting out. “You know like having a contract,” says Chris. He enjoys mentoring and is truly fulfilled helping his mentee. Together they worked on developing the mentee’s design skills, identifying weak points and defining the mentee’s needs and goals. Design is a practice and all can be taught. When talking about his current mentee, he said, “he has the things I can’t teach him like a good work ethic. I can teach him the other stuff.”

One example of this work ethic and dedication was also one of Chris’ greatest surprises in mentoring this term during the critique of one of his mentee’s book cover project. It was one piece and the art was successfully done though the typography could have been stronger. He gave him some type books to read but they proceeded to discuss the project, the art and the concepts of the novel. Chris stresses, his mentee didn’t just talk about the book…”he talked about the book, the details…the concepts. He actually read the book.” Chris mentioned many students don’t bother to get to know the subject and the fact that he did not only surprised him but inspired him. This is the passion for the industry he loves and these are the students he loves to help. They are the future and he wants to be a part of helping them succeed.

Now how does AIGA OC uniquely fit in? According to Chris, he finds OC chapter a very special group and a great place for designers to mentor and mentee each other. Many members work in corporate in-house environments so it tends to be less competitive and more honest and open. As a result it tends to be a more practical (versus artsy) group which has, benefited from increased educational opportunities (such as TypeEd or Scriptolgy) and agency outings like Field Trips. He, along with other members, are very excited for the upcoming year and the next generation of designers.

Mentors and Mentees must apply and meet qualifications detailed at and membership helps to give priority to mentee applicants. Both must be willing to dedicate a minimum of 2–4 hours per month. For mentees, a program fee of $20 is due upon acceptance to the program.

Subject to Mentorship Committee approval, mentors and mentees are paired based upon interest, experience and goals. The standard time commitment is four months. The typical curriculum consists of: 1) review and set program objectives; 2) plan and create an actionable assignment for the mentee; 3) project update meeting and discussion; 4) project completion and presentation and 5) preparation of final summary board and case study for AIGA OC website.

If you are looking to participate in this program by either becoming a mentee or providing guidance as a mentor visit and fill out an application. We’ll be starting a Spring PowerUp! session this May.

By Archie Bagnall
Published March 7, 2016