ASU design student improves conditions for refugees

May 11, 2015

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Taylor Loutsis has been an undergraduate student for the past eight years. Design student Taylor Loutsis Download Full Image

In that time, he has attended three universities, declared six majors and traveled across multiple continents.

“I’m extraordinarily impulsive,” Loutsis said. “So I saw something shiny, in a sense, and I just ran for it. But that shiny wasn’t materialistic, it was more like curiosity.”

This month, Loutsis will graduate with a Bachelor of Science in design in graphic design from The Design School in the ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, but for this self-motivated, 25-year-old changemaker, the degree is just the beginning.

The journey

Loutsis’ story begins in Seattle, where he was born and raised.

“When I was a little kid, I would ask my dad for a pile of dirt so I could make a city,” he said. “I would make these giant earth cities with lakes and pipes, I would make houses out of shoeboxes. I didn’t really put it together until this year, but I was super interested in designing things or making things that represented space.”

Loutsis started his undergrad at Washington State University, but it wasn’t until he got into the design program at Arizona State University that things began to fall into place, partially because he spent so much time exploring. One summer Loutsis earned an artist residency in New York, another summer he took an internship in Germany, and one semester he studied abroad in Singapore.

“While I’ve been at ASU I‘ve had the opportunity and tools to do an excessive amount of exploring in a short period of time to really fine-tune what I want to do,” Loutsis said. “That paired with the fact that our studio is exposed to all the design disciplines at once. You’re going through the hallways and you see industrial design or you see architecture. It’s like a cross-pollination.”

This exposure to other disciplines within The Design School was essential for Loutsis’ most notable project during his undergraduate career, Erasing Boundaries.

Erasing Boundaries

“On June 20, the Associated Press released an article that there were over 50 million people displaced globally for the first time since WWII,” Loutsis said. “That article connected all the dots for me. For the graphic design program, you have to pick a social issue for your final project, and I knew I wanted to do something architecture-related. So it was like OK – refugee camp housing, architecture, social issue – it just made sense.”

But Loutsis knew he couldn’t tackle such a large issue with his skill set alone. He met with his program director, Al Sanft, and proposed a project that would bring in the help of a civil engineering student from University of Portland, an architecture student from Pratt Institute in New York, an industrial design student and an anthropology student from ASU.

The team Skyped once a week during the semester, and gradually Erasing Boundaries began to take shape. The multidisciplinary project reimagines housing in the Kiziba refugee camp in Rwanda, which has a population of 17,500. 

The group has worked closely with Kigabo Mbazumutima, a doctor from the West African Republic of Benin who survived the genocide and has been instrumental in connecting Loutsis and his peers to the local refugee community in Arizona.

“We’ve learned that one of the biggest issues with refugee camps in Africa is that there are multiple tribes with different languages – so there’re language barriers from within,” Loutsis said. “Part of our concept is erasing the boundaries within the refugee camps.”

Aside from being the initiator of the project, Loutsis created the branding, the book, the exhibit design and the video for Erasing Boundaries.

“Graphics are so important because they unify the project, they make it more cohesive,” Loutsis said.

Next steps

After graduation, Loutsis is moving back to Seattle. He already has a job lined up at Arscentia, a company that specializes in exhibition design and design of retail space. He also has applied to join the committee for urban development of the city, and he has signed up for woodworking and metalworking classes on the weekends.

But, he noted reassuringly, Erasing Boundaries isn’t going away just yet.

“That was what was so beautiful about this experience – it showed that this type of project could be executed without having to be together,” Loutsis said.

In August, Loutsis and the other members of the group are traveling with Mbazumutima to his home village to do a site analysis of potential locations for a new community space that might take the form of anything from a health clinic to a school. The group is applying for a substantial grant to help ensure that these designs can one day become a reality.

“There are so many question marks,” Loutsis said. “But we’ve definitely gained the trust of the refugee community here. They know we’ve already invested a few hundred hours into this out of our own will. That’s the most magical part about it – there’s already been that emotional bond.”

In the end, all of Loutsis’ experimenting at ASU paid off, and he was able to discover a path towards his ideal career.

“My dream is to get a masters in architecture at Yale,” he said. “They do their first year in pro bono and they’re more about storytelling and conceptual design, so it seems like a good fit for me.”

As always, he remains invested in making sure there is a link between graphic design, architecture and all of the different design disciplines.

“But I want to take at least five years off,” Loutsis added. “Eight years of undergrad is a long time.”

Communications Program Coordinator, ASU Art Museum


ASU grad's project takes a closer look at teen motherhood

May 11, 2015

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Amanda Mollindo didn’t set out to become a photographer. Photograph from ASU student Amanda Mollindo's show "Young Mothers." Download Full Image

Even though she loved taking photos in high school – of her family, her friends, the landscape around Yuma, Arizona, where she grew up – the Barrett, The Honors College student came to Arizona State University to study digital culture.

One of her first digital culture classes was taught by Betsy Schneider, faculty in the ASU School of Art in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, and a renowned fine-art photographer.

“I got to know the photography program really well really fast,” Mollindo said, “and I fell in love with it.”

Mollindo tried double-majoring for a while, but she noticed that all of the classes she was signing up for were photo classes.

“I love photography too much,” she said, smiling. “It got in the way.”

A brief mention of teen mothers, in a women’s studies class her sophomore year, gave Mollindo the focus for her thesis project.

Mollindo’s own mother was just 17 when she gave birth, after which she left to attend ASU and didn’t return. Mollindo was raised in Yuma by her grandparents, who took guardianship of her.

“All of a sudden it clicked and I knew,” she said. “I immediately went to Betsy, because I had worked with her and I knew she had done a lot of work with family. I knew she would be a really great thesis director, and I also worked with Dr. Aviva Dove, in the honors college.”

“Young Mothers: Exploring Life After Teen Pregnancy” took several years of research, interviewing, writing and photographing – 17 families in all, including Mollindo and her mother.

“What was interesting to me was the media portrayal of teen pregnancy,” Mollindo said. “Growing up I knew my mom had me at a young age, I was aware of the fact that it was a little bit taboo and that it was something that wasn’t supposed to happen. I got that from the community and the fact that there was no real media representation that I could relate to.”

Through her job at a preschool in Mesa, Mollindo’s mother helped Mollindo find families to photograph.

“She’s always been really supportive of the project,” Mollindo said of her mother, “and she agreed that there wasn’t a whole lot that really explains what [the experience of teen motherhood] is like. It’s more like how to prevent it.

As supportive as she was, Mollindo’s mother was reluctant to give her own interview for the project, Mollindo said, “because we both knew it was going to be really difficult. Once I finally did interview her, I realized that this was really a project to understand our relationship a little bit better. That was a really important experience for me.”

Mollindo is quick to point out that the project wasn’t “just about me. I was really interested in other people’s experiences as well. It wouldn’t be as effective if it wasn’t both.”

Mollindo mounted her thesis show at Modified, a gallery in downtown Phoenix. The day she began installing the exhibition, she said, she knew she needed to produce a book, too.

“We were like halfway done with installing, and I came back to school to make the book,” she remembered. “It was finished the morning of the opening. It wasn’t a pretty time in my life. I was exhausted. I was fortunate enough to have some really supportive friends to help with the install and get me through it. When I talk to other people in other majors, it’s really clear that we have a very special community in the School of Art, within our programs.”

After graduation, Mollindo has an internship lined up through the middle of September, at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village, Colorado, where she will help out with workshops in photo and new media.

After that, she said, “I don’t know. I do want to go to graduate school in the next couple of years, but I want to know what it’s like to be a working adult for a while.”

Her mother would like her to continue making art, she says.

“She’s really glad that I’ve chosen to pursue something that I’m really passionate about,” Mollindo said. “And my family is really supportive of me choosing to go into photography. They’re proud of what I’ve done so far. They think that I’ll be ok, that I’ll do fine in the arts.”

So does Betsy Schneider, the professor with whom Mollindo worked on the “Young Mothers” project, who describes Mollindo as “self-motivated and ambitious, but also aware of how much she doesn’t know and eager to have the help to progress.”

“She’s soaked up the best of Barrett [The Honors College] and the School of Art,” Schneider said of Mollindo. “I’ve watched her grow so much over the past four years, and I can’t wait to see where she goes next.”

Deborah Sussman

Communications and media specialist, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts