Connection Chronicles: Collaborating Beyond the Classroom

Graphic Design Instructor and Alumnus for the Win

Eric Melhorn is no stranger to the field of design. Before he became an instructor, he worked for more than 25 years as a designer and art director, eventually starting his own freelance design business, Funkiture. Like many professionals, in 2008 Melhorn found himself thrown around by the crashing economy. It wasn’t until he was out of a job that he found the door to his future career as a teacher open up.

Like Melhorn, Doug Monson also felt hopeless as the recession hit. After working for 12 years in journalism, he found himself barely scraping by, making less than most people with his level of experience. “I thought I would have to become an electrician, or something indispensable, to weather the recession,” he says. “I felt defeated. I had two degrees and nothing to show for it.”

The Rasmussen College Mankato campus provided the platform for both Melhorn and Monson to build their futures on. Little did they know, their paths would stay connected outside of the classroom, too.

Forming a Bond

In 2009, when given the opportunity to use his experience to teach students in the Rasmussen College School of Design, Melhorn knew he couldn’t pass up the opening. “I have always been a creative person,” he says. “When I first started in the design world, I was an illustrator working in print. When I started there weren’t even computers, everything was created by hand.” The opportunity to share his experiences with students looking to get their start in the field excited Melhorn.

“When I first walked into Rasmussen, I was looking for an answer,” says Monson. “I had some graphic design experience and two degrees but my confidence was lost. And that is when I met Eric.”

Monson remembers, “I was older than the other kids in class, but Eric and I are both young at heart and would always laugh together. We had a small class so it was easy to see each other grow as students and feed off of each other’s successes. Eric made it a winning environment.”

Monson instantly connected with Melhorn. He appreciated his years of experience and hands-on approach to teaching. Graphic design can be tedious and complex and Monson needed someone to encourage him to look at things more closely and from new perspectives. The deeper Monson got into his courses, the more his confidence grew.

Joining Forces Outside the Classroom

Melhorn and Monson with awards

By the time Monson graduated in 2013, he was hired by Minnesota Soybean, an organization made up of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA) and the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (MSR&PC). He has since ascended to the role of PR director within the past six years, a role allowing him to combine his love for design with his deep understanding of the media.

In addition to compiling MSR&PC’s annual report, six times each year the MSGA puts together its Soybean Business magazine. Having come from the publishing world and with a passion for design, Monson eagerly leads the work on each issue. “The magazine is my baby,” he says. Due to lack of people to tackle the project, in 2014 internal discussion took place to have the creation of the magazine contracted out. Fearing that outsourcing would mean the magazine would never grow into a meaningful publication for Minnesota farmers and MSGA, Monson knew something had to be done. “I made an impassioned plea for the organization to reconsider,” he recalls. And that’s when he threw Eric’s name into the hat and his experience and style proved to shine through.

Melhorn has always made a point to connect and mentor his students, and with Monson it was no different. “It’s not uncommon for me to receive calls, emails and drive-bys from my alumni,” Melhorn says. “I am always up for bouncing ideas around or giving an outside perspective on projects when I can.”

With no background in agriculture, Melhorn brought a new and creative perspective to not only the magazine but also the organization’s annual report. “Doug and I would sit side by side in my living room throwing ideas around and working to develop the art direction for the magazine and annual report,” he says. “We worked hand in hand. Doug really had a vision and asked what I could do to bring it to life. It was a true collaboration.”

Together their design work won them the Region III National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA) first place award in 2018. In January of 2019, the duo again placed at the Region III NAMA contest and advanced both Soybean Business and MSR&PC’s annual report to the national competition. In April 2019, the annual report took first place at the Best of NAMA — beating out all the regional winners. “We were competing against big players in the industry with multimillion-dollar marketing agencies producing the work; however, we were able to beat them all,” says Melhorn.

Instructors as Experts

Beyond their successful professional partnership, the pair have become good friends.

“Throughout the years Eric has become my mentor,” says Monson. “There are a lot of factors people face when deciding to go back to school. What I’ve learned is that when you feel down and are having a hard time—befriend the experts. Your professors are your experts and they will guide you to the next phase of your life.”

“I had an instructor who saw something in me when I was so down on myself and that is something I am forever grateful for.”

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