The arts have been and continue to be an important aspect of learning for many children, and although it is one of the first items to be cut by government or school budgets, the reality is that the arts play a vital role in the success of most organizations. As a professor of design, Arthur “Chip” McElroy understands how businesses can benefit from creative minds who possess a background in the arts.
An artistic child, McElroy was always doodling. Never using a pencil, he heightened the challenge by using a pen to draw his creations. His love for art was so great that his parents bought him new sketchbooks each year for Christmas. By the time he reached high school, his passion grew with the help of his art teacher, saying, “She understood commercial art and exposed me to logo design, advertising and things that weren’t fine art related.”
Realizing his newfound passion for commercial art, he attended a local community college for one year before transferring to Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania. As one of the few four-year schools a car ride away to offer a degree in graphic design, he enrolled in the program and became active in the university’s athletic program. Playing soccer and tennis, as well as running cross-country, McElroy was part of the first men’s championship team of any kind in university history with the tennis team.
While pursuing his bachelor’s, McElroy’s tennis coach, who worked in marketing at Pepsi, helped him land an internship with the company. Spending his time working on point of purchase display designs, he helped build custom event designs promoted by Pepsi.
In addition to his school and internship responsibilities, McElroy launched his own design firm, Maven Graphics, in 1998. Focusing on brand stewardship, the company offers print, packaging, brand development and web services to clients.
Graduating the same year, he accepted a position with a web and multimedia company working on the animation and web side of design. “I did a lot of animations and web work when it was in its infancy,” he said. “I had no web experience whatsoever at the time of hire.” After one year with the company, McElroy returned to Marywood to earn his Master of Fine Arts (MFA) terminal degree, saying, “I realized they didn’t really teach me how to make money. All they taught me was how to be creative, and at the time, it was how to be creative with your hands.”
Balancing work and school, he admits, “People thought I was crazy at the time, but hindsight being 20/20, the cost of education now compared to what I paid and the opportunities it afforded me that people didn’t realize at the time, it was worth it. I was young and approved to a program that many younger people were not necessarily approved to because it was portfolio and client driven.”
Earning his MFA in 2001, McElroy and his wife Heather married in 2002. Trying to decide where to live, Heather’s parents owned a vacation home in Fort Myers, and after spending a week getting to know the area, the two decided to make Florida their new home.
In addition to the income brought in from Heather’s position as a teacher, the two also relied on McElroy’s private business to pay the bills; however, after a short time, he decided it was time to look at opportunities in the corporate world. Joining Wilson Miller, an architecture/engineering firm in Southwest Florida, as its creative director, he went on to oversee the design side of the company. “They were outsourcing me and billing other companies for my services. Luckily for me, I got to play a lot of free golf,” he said.
While working at Wilson Miller, McElroy spent time training managers on how to get funding for projects. Teaching software skills, as well as how to deliver a presentation, he enjoyed the opportunity to teach others, which led him to join International College as an adjunct faculty member in 2004. Teaching introductory courses in the computer-aided drafting and design (CDD) program for a few semesters, he received an offer from Southwest Florida College to oversee their design program, which he accepted in 2005 and went on to redesign their entire associate program.
Although his adjunct position at Hodges was only short-term, he returned in 2011 to serve as the chair for the Fisher School of Technology’s digital design and graphics (DDG) program. “I immediately rewrote the program as the A.S. in DDG you see now. While I was writing that, I proposed the bachelor’s degree in DDG, and then about a year ago, I proposed the Master of Visual Communication (MVC) program,” he said.
I feel like teaching is my calling, and I enjoy inspiring students each year. – Chip McElroy
As program chair, McElroy is always working to ensure Hodges students are receiving the necessary tools to succeed in the workforce. By staying up to date with industry standards and encouraging students to think globally, he is able to help students look beyond the classroom and beyond their communities, and instead, look at the possibilities that exist for designers in all industries.
“In the classroom, I appreciate teaching the students that design is in every industry,” he said. “If I could go from Pepsi to an agency environment that does web design and end up in engineering and continue to move the ball forward in my career, you can do it anywhere.”
A believer in providing students with hands-on practice, many of the DDG classes are driven by real-world experiences, meaning McElroy and his faculty work to build relationships within the community. Through these relationships, students are able to create unique designs for businesses and organizations.
“I have students who come into the program who may have been at bigger schools and say ‘wow, we did standard stuff that you can find in a textbook,’” he said. “In the classroom, it’s flipped here. We do the local nonprofits, restaurants, shops, and we do designs around them. The portfolios are the industries that matter, locally and nationally, and they target the skills the students have.”
In addition to the experiential style of learning, McElroy believes that because design is a “subjective” career field, it is important to spend time on the critique and discussion. Reiterating the idea of the client being the paying customer, part of the critique process is the professor is the client, and if the professor is not happy, the student must make the necessary changes according to the critique.
“I run my classes like a manager of a business. I have high expectations, and I am a wealth of industry knowledge that I push through the classroom, but my goal is to shape and help guide the career paths of our students,” he said. “I feel like teaching is my calling, and I enjoy inspiring students each year.”
Committed to his work as a professor, McElroy also manages to make time for his personal design projects, one of which includes the creation of an app called Tryptica. Built specifically for the classroom, he describes it as a “creative photo-driven app that allows students to build collages in a seamless kind of way.”
However, his passion remains in teaching and serving as an advocate for the arts. When states look at their budgets to determine what to cut, the arts are oftentimes the first to go; however, as an arts professor, McElroy is pleased to see the change in thinking among educational institutions. Realizing every industry has skills that students must learn in order to perform well, he reiterates that many of the jobs students are seeking while in school do not even exist yet, which reinforces the need for liberal arts and interdisciplinary education.
Joking with his wife that he should join a school board, he enjoys being a voice for the arts and building new delivery methods for instruction, which he plans to continue for years to come.