After graduating from Southern Adventist University’s School of Visual Art and Design in 2010, Kristopher Haughton found himself in a predicament familiar to many young professionals all across the country. The rent, utilities, and food bills were piling up. So was the anxiety over just how to pay those bills.
Kristopher knew his best bet for an immediate source of income would be freelance graphic design work. Thankfully, his university experience helped create a network of professionals to assist in lining up these contract jobs. Professionals like Leif Ramsey. Ramsey manages SVAD Productions, a creative services company under the School of Visual Art and Design, and he worked with Kristopher as a student. These projects helped pave the way for more frequent – and more lucrative – work for Kristopher after graduation.
In the four months before he was offered a permanent, full-time job, Kristopher worked on many freelance projects. Some were with SVAD Productions and others he found on his own, but his preference was always to work with SVAD Productions. He was part of a team, even though he was freelancing.
“I found that it was easier to work with SVAD Productions because I felt like someone had my back,” he said. “[With them,] I wasn’t just some kid out of school. The company gave me respect with clients, and it was good to have other people looking out for me.”
Now, Kristopher is a graphic designer at the Adventist Health System Corporate Office in Winter Park, Fla. He appreciates the practical skills learned while working for SVAD Productions; skills like meeting deadlines and balancing the client’s expectations with his own.
SVAD Productions began in 2004 with the purpose of hiring people to work on Secret of the Cave, a feature film directed and co-written by Zach Gray, associate professor of the School of Visual Art and Design. Ramsey joined the team a year later to develop the commercial projects.
Since then, the company has grown in capacity and has done work for clients like the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, WSMC Classical 90.5, and Jellico Community Hospital, using mostly the work of students. Last year, 24 different students, 5 graduates, and 8 staff members contributed on projects for SVAD Productions.
When a client comes to SVAD Productions with a film, web, print, animation, or 3D design need, Ramsey approaches the teaching staff at the School of Visual Art and Design and asks for particular students whose strengths fit that project best. Other times, Ramsey refers back to students who’ve expressed interest in working on a certain type of project. Because of the need for high quality work and professionalism, most of the student work is done by juniors and seniors.
Cassidy Stone, senior character animation major, remembers the first time she was asked to do a job for SVAD Productions.
“I was super excited ... and a little terrified,” Cassidy said. “They trusted me to handle this job and I wanted to do it well.”
Students who work for SVAD Productions experience a learning environment that goes beyond the classroom. Cassidy says she better understands the professional side of doing creative work after observing Gray and Ramsey converse with clients and ask the right kind of questions.
“In class, a student is primarily focused on a method of learning or a foundational principle, but the problem-solving aspect becomes more realistic when there’s an actual client,” Ramsey said. “The teaching goal [of this company] is to prepare students for real-world work.”
Though more often praised for its pragmatic value, real-world experience carries with it some lasting emotional benefits as well.
“I feel like I’m going to be okay when I graduate,” Cassidy said. “This wasn’t an assignment I had to complete just to prove I could. It was given to me, out of trust that I would do a good job. It was validation from my teachers, which was great because I have a huge amount of respect for them.”