To Network or Not…How Ditching My Comfort Zone was the Best Decision Ever

Erika Mendez
Erika Mendez completed her Bachelor’s in Computer Graphic Design in the Summer 2016 quarter.

TO BE FAIR, I AM NO EXPERT at life nor any networking connoisseur by any standard, however college really allowed me to come out of my shell. When I was in high school people always tried to force me to talk, but I just observed closely. Once in college, I loved what I was doing and who I was around, and I think that propelled me enough to jump aboard a thought train of starting an AIGA student chapter with a teacher. I was eventually designated the President of this chapter and suddenly I knew that this was going to be something I would never forget. We started small, but I had a loyal few students who helped me all the time. This is one of the AIGA’s core values—to build lasting and meaningful professional relationships. So I did my best to get the AIGA message out to the student body, albeit sometimes unsuccessfully.

The struggle helped me discover what happens when you commit yourself to something. Our small group became a community of people who shared the same major and who have gone through so many obstacles or stepping stones to get there. They were there to offer advice, to help with projects, or to let you tag along and meet new people. Last year at the Graphic Design Advisory Board meeting I had the opportunity to meet Don Hansen, the AIGA Louisville Chapter President (By the way, he is awesome to talk with should you ever get the chance). While talking with him and a few others after the meeting, it had come up that we were trying to start a student chapter at Sullivan Tech, so immediately he was excited. He sent us official AIGA swag to have and hand out, along with some solid advice and an invitation to the AIGA professional board meetings. I realized this was a great opportunity for a Graphic Design student. I knew I had chosen the right path—the struggle was worth it.

On campus we hosted some Welcome Week events and some fundraisers. We gained a few more members and a lot more attention in the school community. This helped a lot I believe, because we finally weren’t some big secret anymore, we had gotten our footing on the rungs of the school clubs’ ladder.

For me, this school year has been revolutionary (in more than one way). This summer I was able to attend several AIGA-sponsored Design Week events. I networked like nobody’s business; which is incredibly difficult considering it was about business! Now, this being a series of events over a week’s time, and being hosted in multiple places, and open to Louisville’s professional design community is big and scary to many (trust me I know the feeling), but once I got to these events I felt completely at ease. Sure, there were people there who could probably

out-design me with a blindfold and one arm tied behind their backs, but I turned that fear into motivation! I started conversations, discussed programs, compared software, and gave advice to help another designer. It was amazing! I felt like I was in a room full of people that had known my life story before I even opened my mouth. We shared experiences, cried over Bézier curves, and fought a printer or two. Being around so many like-minded individuals outside of school was truly something to experience.

I attended a Design Week event almost every day, and I am so glad I did. I learned about one of the oldest design firms in Louisville, learned some new things about Adobe InDesign, met an incredible team of typography wizards, and participated in a mural painting.

My favorite event will forever be the Keynote Speech and After Party with the Lost Type Co-Op (LT). These are some of the most talented designers that I have ever seen, but they are also the nicest people you could meet. During the after party, I conversed with some awesome local designers, the AIGA president, and the founder of the LT. They told some interesting stories (that I can barely remember anymore because I mainly was dying of laughter throughout the evening). I will never forget that night. I left with that righteous feeling thinking, “Hey, I’m a designer, and I belong here,” which had never really happened before.

So I’m sure while reading this you are wondering why I just rambled on and on, but I promise it’s for a good cause. I’m not promoting the AIGA student group professionally or as alumni, but as a designer. I recommend those in any designing career path to consider joining. I would have never in a million years thought that I would be in the position that I am in today, but I never would have reached this professional epiphany if it weren’t for this community. Take it from me (and Maya Angelou), “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

For more information on joining the Sullivan Tech AIGA Student Group, contact CGD student Morgan Fletcher or go to