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Nicole Chmieleski ’17

Nicole Chmieleski Photo

As a student, finding your path is an ever-evolving process. Alumna Nicole Chmieleski was planning on being an art teacher, but during her junior year, she decided to change course and pursue a degree in graphic design—one of SUNY Potsdam’s newest majors. After graduating in May, she hasn’t strayed far; She was hired by PACES Dining Services right after commencement and now does graphic design and administrative work in their marketing department here on campus.                                 

Chmieleski transferred to SUNY Potsdam from Finger Lakes Community College to pursue a degree in art education. “I enjoyed art and I thought I could learn to teach art, and it would be perfect…But as I was going through those classes to become a teacher, I was thinking to myself, I want to be doing the art more than teaching…Then I tried the graphic design, and now I just see myself creating art instead of teaching it,” she said.

As a junior, she was unsure if she wanted to continue in art education. She met with her advisor who encouraged her to take a graphic design class. “My advisor happened to be the graphic design professor, Mark Huff, and we sat down and talked about it. He opened my eyes to all of the possibilities with graphic design that I wasn’t aware of. So, I took more classes and here I am. I just fell more and more in love with it, and all of the possibilities that came with it,” Chmieleski said.

After taking the first graphic design class, she was hooked and wanted to keep going. She went on to take graphic design and media arts II, digital illustration and imaging and graphic design practices and portfolio. “I didn’t know much about graphic design…so when I took the [first graphic design] class I was surprised to learn that you can do it in advertising. You can become an illustrator. There’s a lot of possibilities,” she said.

From an early age, Chmieleski was passionate about art, but she had never really done much with graphic design. “I had no idea that I could be this creative with these programs, I thought, ‘I love to paint and create things with my hands,’ but I didn’t think I would feel the same about using a mouse; I was obviously very wrong. I was thankful that he (Huff) pushed me a little bit to try it,” she said.

As part of the graphic design major, students are required to do an internship. Huff connected her with Abigail Lee, PACES marketing director, where she spent the second half of her senior year working on projects with PACES. “Abby and I just hit it off from the start. We both kind of thought on the same level. It was a really different experience than what I thought. As an internship, I thought it would be more, sit down and learn how to be a graphic designer. However with this, she took me in and said, ‘well, here’s what we’re working on, and I want to see what you can do.’ She handed it right over to me and I just started designing for her,” Chmieleski said.

As the internship and her senior year came to a close, another door opened as PACES created a new position for Chmieleski. With a remodeling project for the student union and the need for new signs in the dining court, her graphic design skills were extremely beneficial.

Over the past few months, she designed seven signs for the dining court restaurants in the Barrington Student Union. She also helped with the interior design of the space, selecting paint colors and tiles for the renovated food court.

The symbiotic relationship between PACES and SUNY Potsdam is no more clearly expressed than through Chmieleski’s transition from a SUNY Potsdam student to PACES employee. A lot has changed for her in the last two years as she switched from art education to graphic design and landed her first job out of college.

Looking back on her experience, she recommends that current students lean on their advisors to point them in the right direction. “Your advisors are there to help you and guide you. So, tell them what you find interesting. You never know what kind of jobs are out there,” she said.