This is the conclusion of a two-part interview with David Kersey, executive director of the New Design School in Fayetteville.
After his arrival in Northwest Arkansas, David Kersey learned about the New Design School from a friend who had worked with a former student of the school. Kersey then met with the school’s founder, Sonia Gutiérrez, to discuss starting an animation program. After joining the NDS staff, Kersey served as the school’s first director of development and went to work promoting the school and creating an animation curriculum. “It became a much bigger thing than just an animation program,” he says.
Kersey recalls his time as a high school student and how his career path was influenced by the introduction of technology. This led him to investigate what digital art courses were available in Northwest Arkansas schools at the time. “There were surprisingly very little new offerings in the 20 years since I was in high school,” he explains. He knew there needed to be more opportunities and art curriculum for local students.
The school has since built a relationship with the Arkansas Arts Academy in Rogers, where its digital arts program is now in its second year. The success of that partnership set Kersey’s team up for deciding the direction for the future of NDS.
New Design School began its curriculum with a graphic design program, and has grown to include classes for creating video games, animation, web design and more. Since the school offers post-secondary education, Kersey realizes the value of relationships with local high schools to help build his school’s student base.
Another move that helps reach potential students is the addition of the Nerdies program to the NDS family. The non-profit status of the Nerdies program allows for raising funds to put kids through technology summer camps. In their first summer of operating Nerdies, they were able to teach over 200 school kids about technology through on-site partnerships at places like Crystal Bridges, the Amazeum and the Arts Center of the Ozarks. Through the Nerdies camps, kids get to spend a week having fun and learning from a professional in areas like making video games, computer programming and robotics.
“My vision is to be the leader in the creative meets technology space,” explains Kersey. He hopes that NDS programs will be used by children and adults alike, to make something awesome. Adult classes are available through the NDS master program, or what Kersey called “the portfolio school.” He says, “I don’t want NDS to take away from the secondary education that exists out there, I want to go in and work together.”
Kersey says that many employers aren’t as concerned with where a potential employee went to school, but if that person has the proper skills to perform a certain role. The adult program at NDS provides students with a chance to develop those skills and go away with a portfolio of work to show.
Staying current on new and popular technology is important for the school’s success. One benefit of the structure of NDS is that it’s very flexible and in tune with the creative climate, and course offerings can be updated as new software and trends emerge.
When talking about the future, Kersey says his team is looking to expand into direct professional development and working with corporate trainers to teach more people. He has a vision to both lead creatives to technology and provide them with a setting to collaborate with others.
For now, Kersey and the NDS are focused on the success of the current products they offer: the Nerdies program, developing high school curriculum and offering post-secondary training. He says, “Do it right and the other pieces will kind of organically form.”
Kersey acknowledges that his move into education wasn’t a seamless transition. Giving up a steady Disney salary to become an entrepreneur has had challenges, but he describes the process as a character building time. He also has seen the impact that working with kids has had on him personally. “I did not know how blown away I would be by the kids,” he says.
The admiration he feels is obvious as Kersey talks about his students; he wants the community to know that digital art talent is thriving in our area. He recounts the story of an NDS student who was also working in an internship position at the same time. “I’d put him up against some of the best designers in the country, and he’s 19 years old,” he says.
Watching others learn has always been something that Kersey enjoys. He remembers mentoring two interns at Disney and the passion they had for their creative projects. In fact, what he witnessed with those two interns proved that he also needed to keep growing in his own skillset.
Kersey is excited to be a part of NDS and what it offers the community. “New Design School can be that world-class institution that sits in the center of America. Northwest Arkansas is the perfect place for that to be,” he says. He looks forward to the future of the school and the possibility of working continuously with individual students from elementary age all the way up through high school. For Kersey, his art career that took him so far from home has now brought him back to inspire and educate others.
Information about the New Design School and its programs can be found at www.newdesignschool.org.