Alumni Share Advice with Graphic Design Seniors

Three Department of Art, Art History, and Design alumni recently returned to campus to speak to the Graphic Design Senior Seminar, a class consisting of all seniors who are ready to graduate this spring.

The three alumni – Sam Landers, B.F.A. Studio Art 1982; Christi Wise, B.F.A. Fine Art and B.A. Psychology 1982; and Susan Bennett, B.F.A. Graphic Design 1984 – talked to the students about what it’s like working in the graphic design field, offered advice, and answered many questions.

“We are hesitant to go out there and take what we have been working on for the past couple of years, but they helped ease some of our fears and gave us some general comfort sharing what they know,” said Chole Weipert, Graphic Design senior.

Some students also had their portfolios reviewed by the alumni. 

group of students in a class room
Graphic Design Senior Seminar class

“It was helpful, inspiring, and exciting to get advice from people who have been doing the thing that you want to do for so long,” said Kelly Phalen, Graphic Design senior.

After Landers graduated from MSU, he founded and was President of the Chicago-based design firm, Design Kitchen, for about 20 years where he and his team created designs for brand-named companies such as HP and CVS. He then switched to publishing and currently is the Publisher and Editor of Trope Publishing Company, which annually produces about 11 to 14 photography books, each consisting of photos from a specific city. In addition to the books, the company also creates documentaries on each of these cities. 

An advantage of going to a school like MSU is the different types of people you meet with different interests, you are going to run into all of them.


“An advantage of going to a school like MSU is the different types of people you meet with different interests, you are going to run into all of them,” Landers said. “As a designer, you are going to be exposed to everything, so be curious, learn to learn, and keep yourself open.”

After graduating from MSU, Wise went to the University of Illinois at Chicago to earn an M.F.A. in Communications Design. In 2008, she began working at Fidelity Investments using interactive communications that help explain employee benefits. Through this experience, she was asked to help turn around their healthcare business, focusing on identifying and testing new solutions and working with emerging technologies. 

Currently, Wise helps start-up businesses, specifically healthcare start-ups, as a consultant with the company Total Wellbeing. With her experience working with people from vastly different fields, she told students to remember: “You are never the expert in everything, and collaboration allows you to magnify your abilities.” 

Three people sitting in black chairs talking to one another
Sam Landers (left), Christi Wise (middle), and Susan Bennett (right) speaking to the Graphic Design Senior Seminar class.

Following graduation, Bennett worked at Herman Miller in Grand Rapids, where she worked in their graphic design department. She later moved to Chicago and worked briefly at Design Kitchen with Landers. Eventually, she moved to her current position at the creative branding agency Simple Truth, which does branding and communications design work for a variety of clients, including the Chicago History Museum, Allstate, and Hollister. She started at Simple Truth as the Creative Director for nine years and has been the Partner and Chief Creative Officer for the past 20 years.  

She told students the same thing she tells her team at Simple Truth regarding the problems you may find along the way: “Sometimes if you are struggling with a problem, the best way to see it is to look away from it. You are not going to find a new idea in the same room that you are in because the more you look for it and get frantic about it, the harder it is for you to tackle it.”