Few things held Ft. Myers, Fla. student Karen Sentner’s attention like art and design while growing up. But like a lot of artistically inclined young people, a time came where she had to decide whether her passion would become a hobby or a career with which she could support her family.
The choice was easy for Sentner.
“For me [the choice] was ‘do you want a job that you’ll have to deal with every day or do you want a job that you can look forward to every day?’” Sentner says. “If you want to look forward to your job you have to work for it, and that means you need to get an education to stand out to employers.”
This is the story of how Sentner’s choice to pursue her passion at Rasmussen College has paid off.
Finding what she wants
Art was always a favorite school subject for Sentner, but she didn’t really consider design as a potential career until in high school, when a class covering the basics of design software piqued her interest. The class made her think of design as a potential line of work, but she also wasn’t sure how realistic the job prospects would be.
“I loved the idea of working for Pixar and Disney, but I wanted something real that I could do here in my hometown,” Sentner says.
Sentner set out to find the right college for her after high school and made a brief stop at Edison State College to take a few general education classes. Sentner says she hated her experience there, but was still able to pick up a few credits before leaving and continuing her search for the right fit.
Sentner briefly contemplated trying to teach herself how to use programs like Photoshop and Illustrator with online tutorials, but realized skills alone wouldn’t be enough for what she wanted in life—a career.
“I want to have a job where I work for a big company in their marketing department,” Sentner says. “Experience and technical skills are good to have but companies want to see that you’ve got a degree.”
A television ad for Rasmussen College caught her attention and shortly after meeting with an advisor she decided to enroll in the design program.
Sentner says part of the appeal was that if things didn’t work out with her design dreams, she would still have a degree to fall back on when applying for other types of work. Fortunately for Sentner, her hard work and helpful instructors have paved the way for her to stick with her dream career path.
Experience at Rasmussen College
Sentner’s time at Rasmussen College could have easily faltered after her first year—planning her wedding, going to school and having her first child made for a hectic schedule. The effort required to balance her schedule was challenging, but Sentner says that her instructors helped make it manageable.
“I had really good communication with my instructors so the week I had my baby we were able to work things out,” Sentner says.
Sentner says that while the flexibility of her online classes made her busy schedule easier to manage, she preferred to take her design courses in person. Hands-on instruction and working through new techniques with classmates made in-person classes appealing.
“The best inspiration I get is from other students because we just feed off of each other’s ideas,” Sentner says. “You also get to hear the little tips and tricks for Photoshop or other programs that somebody else might know.”
Her coursework also pushed Sentner to try refining skills like animation and video editing; something she says never interested her until she got to try them in class. One of the assignments has already paid off tremendously for Sentner—a portfolio video showcasing her work led to a job offer.
“I never thought I wanted to do video editing and thought it was something I’d just have to do to get it out of the way,” Sentner says. “But I know for a fact that video portfolio got me my job.”
Budding career & plans for the future
Sentner cleared a major hurdle while finishing up her associate degree—landing a job at Lifeline Family Center as a graphic designer and marketing specialist. The position provides her with an excellent starting point for a variety of career avenues as she has her hands in design work, social media and web development.
A job and an associate degree are a great start, but Sentner has big plans for her future. She wants to eventually work her way into a senior marketing position for a large company and earn her bachelor’s degree along the way. She is content, for now, at her current job and looks to supplement her income with freelance work because she wants to wait for her family to mature before climbing the corporate ladder.
Sentner is already working as a freelance designer for local businesses and can rely on continued support from a former instructor.
“One of my first design instructors, Jen Ayotte, has been really helpful even after she took on another position,” Sentner says. “I’m still able to reach out to her and she helped me with pricing for freelance work since I didn’t really know what to charge.”
Sentner’s current job at Lifeline Family Center plus her freelance projects will give her not only a strong portfolio of professional work, but also a fantastic launching point for a career as the connections made through both could open wide variety of opportunity.
It looks like getting her design degree—rather than trying to teach herself—was the right choice after all.
Build your foundation
Do you want a career where your work is something you look forward to? A design degree is the best way for you to build the foundation of a graphic design career. Karen Sentner made the choice and it paid off—so what’s stopping you?