M.F.A. thesis uncovers forgotten stories in design
What's My Why?
“I had been working in nonprofits arts fundraising for about eight years. And I knew that that was not something that I wanted to spend my entire career doing, and I also knew that a career change for me meant that I needed to go back to school. … I want to have even more grounding in design that the Integrated Design M.F.A. offered. But then also, it allows me to teach at a university or a college, and that just gives me, as a professional, more flexibility in what I’m looking to do in the future.”
Ariel Jarman (née Cowen) wanted to change careers and didn’t know where to begin. So she started researching her options through programs in Baltimore.
“I found the M.A. Integrated Design program at The University of Baltimore and I thought, this is it. I didn’t even know this was what I was looking for, but this was what I was looking for. I started that program in 2017.”
Jarman would later shift into the M.F.A. in Integrated Design program. This path would still help her develop design skills and additionally create more career options for her, such as teaching.
During her time at UBalt, she moved and started a family, but always found the support she needed was available to her. She graduated with her M.F.A. in May 2023.
“There’s not a dollar figure that you can put on that to say, this is the program, this was worthwhile,” she said. “This is something that facilitated my being a successful student, and I really can’t say that that would have been the case at any other institution. I feel so fortunate to have been in this program with these faculty at the University of Baltimore.”
Putting history on display
Before she could finish her degree, Jarman had to complete a thesis that she focused on three female poster designers.
The idea of the thesis was daunting at first. She wasn’t sure where to begin, but found support from her program director, Megan Rhee. Rhee earned her M.F.A. from UBalt’s Integrated Design program and now oversees both the M.F.A. and M.A. programs.
Jarman decided to lean into her interest in poster design.
“I’ve always loved posters,” she said. “I’ve always really been drawn to the WPA posters. The Works Progress Administration posters that were produced were just very unique and visually distinct.”
Jarman focused her thesis on three designers: Vera Bock, Katherine Milhous and Dorothy Waugh. She researched their work and histories, and built an exhibit that was on temporary display in Robert L. Bogomolny Library’s gallery space. She titled her thesis “Untold.”
Learning the history of American design was one thing, but little was available about the artists themselves. Jarman wanted to spotlight their work.
“Women, as most people are aware, are often left out of the historical record for their contributions, and unfortunately, design is no different,” she said. … “Making sure that those stories are still remembered and told is really important.”
Jarman said the entire experience, from her first classes in the M.A. program to finalizing her thesis exhibit, has prepared her for a myriad of opportunities in design.
“The benefit of the program is that they give you all of the tools that you need to be successful in terms of the foundation in design, but also the real-world application of those skills,” she said. … “This degree has made me feel confident, especially as I did not come from a design background, to have the skill set I need to either be a practitioner or an educator in design. And that feels really fortunate.”