Northwoods graphic designers struggle to find jobs; Nicolet College suspends training programSubmitted: 12/08/2016

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RHINELANDER - Twenty-two-year-old Tessa Szmania wanted to work full-time as graphic designer. She also wanted to live in Rhinelander.

It turns out she couldn't have both.

Szmania got an associate's degree in graphic design from Nicolet College in Rhinelander in 2013. Then, things got tough.

"It was hard to even begin to find a job around here," Szmania said. "In a big city, there's job postings all the time for graphic designers. The last couple years, I've been looking, and I haven't seen any."

After working at a salvage yard for a little while, she gradually got back into graphic design as a freelancer, starting a business called Forward Design. But it was difficult to pay the bills doing design work alone.

So Szmania taught herself to do screenprinting work out of her home.

"I figured that's something I could add just a little bit to keep my business going," she said. "It seems to be working out pretty good."

Szmania isn't alone in having to compromise a dedicated graphic design career.

The lack of graphic design jobs in the Northwoods means many people with degrees aren't working solely as graphic designers.

"In the Northwoods, we're just seeing that there aren't specific graphic design jobs available for our graduates," said Nicolet College Dean of Liberal Arts and Business Dr. Emily Stuckenbruck.

For that reason, Nicolet College will suspend its graphic design program for at least three years. Instead, it will start teaching some graphic design in other business curriculum.

"We're looking at business. We're looking at I.T. We're finding those skills that individuals who go out into those job markets might need from graphic design. Those skills will be embedded into those programs," Stuckenbruck said.

Nicolet College also plans to offer more programs for students who want to tie together entrepreneurship and their creative talents. A new associate's program in fine arts is on the way.

That tie between business and arts is something Szmania is trying to do, even if it's not as a full-time graphic designer. She hopes her new setup will to help her business keep growing.

"It's just in the baby steps of it right now," she said.

Nicolet College has just five students enrolled in graphic design right now. They will complete their degree before the program is suspended.

Story By: Ben Meyer

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