Michele Bury: Drawing on Experience to Inspire Design Students

Graphic design constantly and creatively innovates, adapts, evolves, and progresses. So, too, does Michele Bury, past chair and professor of art and design at California State University, Dominguez Hills. And the beauty of it is her influence can be seen in the works created by the university’s art and design students.

Traditionally, the works of students are displayed during the Annual Student Art and Design Exhibitions held in the University Art Gallery. Drawing on her early career experience working internationally as a graphic designer—in Paris she designed for clients including the Chateau de Versailles Museum and for one of London’s top agencies, Roundel Design Group—the Berkeley native has guided students to create and deliver their work in more progressive ways.

Michele Bury points out design details to students.

Michele Bury points out design details to students (from left) Alejandra Palacios, Diann-Marie Smith, Zach Barton, Ana Elias, and Gustavo Luna.

Two years ago she began implementing non-traditional assignments such as guerrilla art projects, also known as street art, in which students anonymously and spontaneously installed temporary displays at various locations throughout campus.

Animation students also have an opportunity to share their work beyond the classroom and university’s art gallery.

Several students from the art and design department have been selected as finalists to show at the annual CSU Media Arts Festival (MAF), including one of Bury’s digital animation students, alumna Marié Ishikawa (Class of ’09, B.A., digital media arts), who produced an animated “Swatch” commercial in 2009.

Bury said her experience as a past juror for MAF provided her with insights into the current trends in digital media.

“That was very interesting because you really get a sense of what other schools are doing, and we don’t [typically share] static images, for print or fine arts, [that way],” she said.

Bury has evolved other classroom assignments into projects that students create for real world use, starting right here with the university. Through Independent Study in Art (ART494) she guides students as they create materials for “clients” on campus, including posters for several productions staged by the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance.

Extending experiential learning for students to off-campus activities, Bury developed the curriculum for Design Practices III (ART447A) to include a project in which students consult with owners or representatives of local small businesses to redesign a brand identity.

This fall Bury has adapted the project and has students designing a brand identity, in any format they choose, for an event benefiting a social cause of their choice. As part of the project they will interact with clients or users to develop a budget for the project and precise fundraising goals.

“The project goes toward constructive, tangible social change,” Bury commented.

Before she scaled the project to an entire class, she had worked with three students in independent study on projects to affect social change in fall 2012. Presenting their work during the 2013 Student Research Day resulted in a first place in the creative arts category for alumna Dalia Cornejo (Class of ’13, B.A., art and design, Spanish literature) for “Destroy the Box,” a stress relief project, and second place for Class of 2012 art and design alumnae Elvia Martinez and Ruth Morales-Mazariego for their “Visual Presentation About Homelessness.”

“That was the starting point. It was so successful and inspiring that I said, ‘Okay, I want to do this in the classroom,’” Bury recalled.

Investigating other ways to help propel CSU Dominguez Hills design students to “the next level” and to gauge how they compare to those at other institutions, Bury attended annual portfolio events sponsored by the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA). To enrich their experiential learning, Bury brought students along with her in prior years. But that wasn’t the best she could do. In an effort to reduce costs for students and to provide more focused attention on their work, in 2009 she initiated her own portfolio review event at CSU Dominguez Hills.

Bury implemented Portfolio Review Day as the culmination of the Senior Portfolio course (ART448A) she teaches each spring semester. Students from the class have the opportunity to meet with 10 professional reviewers in a speed-dating format to garner assessments of work designed and developed during their art and design studies at the university.

“The students find it very useful. [Instructors] also find it useful because we gain feedback about the art and design program,” Bury noted.

Insight gleaned is included in a formal assessment of the department. For instance, if judges suggest such elements as typography or the usage of illustration could be improved in students’ work, strengthening the teaching of those skills on corresponding assignments are considered for the curriculum.

“Portfolio Review Day is a lot of work, but it’s definitely worth it,” Bury said. “It’s a luxury for our students to have the attention on them. And it really gives us a good picture of what we’re doing as a program.”

In the portfolio class, which Bury describes as extremely demanding, students are also able to hone presentation skills that they can use during Portfolio Review Day as well as at job interviews.

“Students have ownership of the project. So they can get rid of all the guidelines that were initially given to them and they really transform their portfolio into something that highlights their strengths,” Bury said. “The days of the black portfolio are kind of over.”

The course is proving effective, too. Cornejo aced an interview for a graphic design internship that took place during the summer of 2013 at Dermalogica, a skin care company in Torrance. Her CSUDH training undoubtedly was a factor in her success; the company recently hired Cornejo as a full-time graphic designer.

Since joining the CSU Dominguez Hills art department faculty in fall 2003, Bury has innovated curriculum with a broad stroke.

Early in her 2007-2012 appointment as chair of the art and design department, Bury considered ways not only to improve instruction and outcomes but to differentiate the program from those at other CSUs. A hybrid (part classroom, part online) program seemed to be a good solution and a good fit for the university.

“As of now, we are the only program within the CSU that will be offering this modality,” Bury said. “Graphic design is all on the computer, so it lends itself to online work really well. I find that using technology makes things easier and more interesting.”

She added that students use technology to relate to each other and through it is how they see the world. She went further to say that having students work on their assignments at home is more productive. Since the addition of using several online tools, their work has become stronger, and participation in critique activities has increased and became more meaningful.

“They’re very nice to each other in the classroom and they’re a lot more honest online,” she explained.

For two semesters Bury has offered hybrid classes as a pilot program. She has trained other design faculty and submitted a request for a curriculum change, which was approved by the College of Arts and Humanities and the university’s curriculum committee. It is currently undergoing further review by the CSU Office of the Chancellor.

Bury’s foray into technology was a breath of fresh air and the department was her blank tech canvas. When she was hired 10 years ago in the Department of Art—as it was then called—it had been 25 years since any new-hires had come on board.

“So I was the person for anything digital,” recalled Bury, who holds a Master of Fine Arts in animation from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Film, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design from Académie Charpentier in Paris, the city where she grew up.

Bury, who hadn’t originally planned on a career in teaching—until an offer from the chair of the animation department at UCLA led her to teach graduate level digital animation (motion graphics) there—said she has found it very rewarding. Not only can she facilitate student success, but she’s also been able to put her stamp on the art and design department at CSU Dominguez Hills.

Within three weeks of joining the Toro faculty, Bury was asked to redesign the CSU Dominguez Hills design department curriculum. She remembers it as a daunting task. She introduced courses in web design, history of graphic design, typography, and revamped the portfolio class to include the aforementioned Portfolio Review Day and a mock job interview component.

Moreover she reorganized the department, distinguishing fine arts from graphic arts and renaming it the Department of Art and Design, which she says is “a better reflection of who we are.”

Mindful of the opportunity she’s been given to affect change at CSU Dominguez Hills, she credits another visionary.

“[Professor emeritus of art and design] Bernard Baker was very open and very supportive of all my ideas,” Bury said. “That was key.”


  1. Ellie Zenhari says:

    Congratulations to my mentor and colleague Michele Bury. You are such an amazing source of inspiration for us all.

  2. Nancy Erbe says:

    I’m also happy to see this!

  3. Congratulations to our dear colleague Michele. Public recognition and tribute for Michele’s transformative presence at CSUDH is long overdue as she has consistently innovated the design program from her first arrival, launching her students into the professional world of graphic design equipped with skill, confidence and moxy. Michele’s talent, awareness and dedication to her students and to the department have lifted and inspired all of us who have had the privilege of working with her.

  4. Ericka Verba says:

    Congratulations to my friend and colleague Michele. I am so happy you are being recognized for the talent and innovation you bring to our campus. You are an inspiration to students and colleagues alike.

  5. Elaine Brandt says:

    Honors and congrats to Michele Bury for all of her hard work and innovations in the CSUDH Art and Design Department. Onward and upward for the Department and Michele Bury’s devotion and passion.

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