Staff, Student, Entrepreneur
Mark Pederson is a busy man. An aerobics instructor and fitness monitor in the The Dan and Kathleen Hogan Sports Center's Elizabeth Kind Van Cise Fitness Center, he's also a private trainer, a business owner, and a student working toward his BFA in Graphic Design.
So you're back in school - why Graphic Design classes and not Exercise and Sport Sciences?
Graphic Design and fitness have always been part of my life, but my first degree was an associate's in accounting. That was my dad's idea, he was a businessman and said a degree in business would be good for anyone to have. I did it, but I hated it. It was accounting, you know what I mean? I barely made it through, I knew it wasn't for me. After, I went to the New Hampshire Technical Institute in Manchester to study commercial design, and I got my second associate's degree in that in 1988.
What did you do after graduating?
I was in the sign industry right afterward, and that was when they were just starting to come out with computer graphics. I worked there about seven years before I started feeling like I needed a change. I started teaching aerobics, and got my personal trainer certification and a bunch of others in free weights, kick boxing, a slew of them.
From sign-making to kick-boxing to enrolling at Colby-Sawyer? How did that happen?
Back around 2001, I was working at another gym. I read the ad for the position at Colby-Sawyer's fitness center and thought, What the heck, I'll apply. I got the job and noticed that one of the employee benefits is to take classes and actually graduate as a matriculated student, which is a tremendous benefit.
I started taking classes immediately, and I actually did enroll in Exercise and Sport Sciences courses at first, but it would have taken forever to complete my degree. I realized I'd graduate much faster with a BFA in Graphic Design since I already had my associates in that area, so I decided on that instead.
You didn't have to start from the very beginning as a student?
Colby-Sawyer considers me a transfer student, and my general education classes were taken care of from my previous work. I did have to take an introduction to computers class, though, because when I first started going to school, computers were just coming out! No one owned a computer then.
Even doing the commercial art the lay-out and paste-up that we do on computers these days I was doing it all manually back then, with a glue gun and border table and a drafting table and a T-square to make sure everything was lined up. It's funny now because when fellow students ask about my early work, I say, Well, it was before computers were around. And it kind of blows them over, they can't believe it.
How do you balance being a full-time employee, a part-time student, and a business owner?
You have your nights and your weekends, so you might as well make yourself useful there's not a lot of nightlife here in New London. Seriously, though, I've had a lot of help. All the professors have been great; they understand that I have a full plate so they say, As long as you get it done, just keep up. I was taking two classes a semester but I just bought a house and I'm working on that, so now it's just one class a semester. Two would be too much.
Also, my supervisor, Pam Sanborn, helps out a lot; she bends over backwards to make sure I can do what I want to do, along with the other people I work with in the fitness center. If I need to do something, they say, 'Sure go do it.' We're all close.
My sign business comes last right now, after work, school and the personal training I do, but I'm able to incorporate my sign work as part of my portfolio. I'm fairly new to New London, but my signs are going up all over town, which is interesting to see.
I'm trying to get academic credit for work that I've done for my business. I did a window lettering job for my advisor for the John Bott art exhibit this fall, and she wanted her students to see how it is done. I was taught how to hand letter from a sign maker before computers were around, of course, and so I showed them how to do it both by hand and with computers using high-performance vinyls. In town, through word of mouth, I've sold signs to La Dolce Vita, Distinctive Floral Designs, Little Brook Gallery, and I redid the Artisan's Workshop sign.
Colby-Sawyer considers every staff member an educator, so what's it like interacting with students now that you have both roles?
I don't really take part in student activities, but when people come to the fitness center they know me. I get to know them in the classroom, but I don't try to push myself on them. I'm the same age as their parents!
It's interesting getting to know students in the creative fields and see what's going on with them, but they're also very interested to see my portfolio that was done 30 years ago; they want to know how that all happened. And they're interested in my sign work too, because people see signs all the time but never know where they come from.
How is Colby-Sawyer different from your other college experiences?
At the end of the day, you have to do the work. I barely got through accounting, and I couldn't wait to get away from that. When you love doing something you're going to put the effort into it, whereas something you're not crazy about, eh.
And the workload is there for everyone. I see the students working and some of them are just dog tired because all they're doing is trying to get their work in on time. It's especially hard in a creative field, to produce on schedule. Professors don't want something you did in ten minutes. They're going to know if that's how you did it, and they expect more than that out of you. A lot more.
Right now I'm taking a printmaking class. It's very small, but all the students love it, and they're very enthusiastic. It's not like they were told by their parents to get into graphic design. The big difference is, I'm doing this for me, with Colby-Sawyer's support.