ES students present to their client at the ad agency mono in Minneapolis
ES students present to their client at the ad agency mono in Minneapolis
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Entrepreneurial studies (ES) is one of MCAD’s most unique programs. In fact, MCAD is one of just a few art and design schools in the country where students get to interweave their creative studies with business and entrepreneurship studies.

While students in any major can take many of the courses offered in the ES program, the program currently has about fifty declared majors. In addition to studying art and design disciplines, ES majors also have the opportunity to work with real-world clients throughout their college career. “Our students discover the freedom they can have by being able to advocate for their art and design solutions in the language that those outside of the creative sector speak,” says Director of Entrepreneurial Studies Stephen Rueff, “and that’s the language of business.”

ES Student Work

Student group project for the ES class Human Factors


One way that the ES program helps students is through gatherings and networking events. Such an event took place this spring, when Rueff hosted a group of the ES community on campus. Alumni, current students, faculty, and clients showed up, in addition to all three directors of the twenty-year-old program: Lester Shen, Jerry Allan, and Rueff. “We have these events to create a close-knit community between those currently involved in the program and those who are now out,” Rueff says, “especially those in similar disciplines or career tracks.” The gathering was also a chance for Rueff and MCAD President Jay Coogan to brief the attendees on new developments within the program as well as their upcoming space expansion plans. MCAD will soon house a new 3,000-square-foot space for the ES program, providing two state-of-the-art classrooms, meeting space, exhibition space, and a home for students in the program.

“The variety of skills taught in the ES program helped me create my own career.”

Arlene Birt ’02 is an artist and infodesigner who teaches some ES courses. She graduated from the program before pursuing a master's of design at Design Academy Eindhoven. When I asked Arlene about her experience in the program, she told me it helped her combine a lot of her different interests into a career that was personalized for her.

“I sort of describe it as something I invented for myself,” she said. “And I think the variety of skills taught in the ES program helped me create my own career.”

Like MCAD's other undergraduate majors, ES students still engage with fine art classes. However, they also take courses that cultivate an understanding of business, client management, and sustainability. This way they can diversify their academic pursuits and combine all their interests in both art and business into one, cohesive experience. ES students are also required to take more internships than fine arts students, allowing them to establish a strong network of connections by the time they graduate.

Video by Beza Daniel for ES course Creative and Critical Thinking:


I also got to chat with Nick Dahl ’10 after the ES gathering. He teaches the Project Tracking class within the ES program. He’s also a digital manager at ad agency mono, and has worked in the field of digital production and crafting online experiences for a while. During his time as a student at MCAD, he was instructed by an adjunct to visit a Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association (MIMA) event; he told me he still works with some of the people he met back then. Dahl believes that without instructors pushing him into things like that, he probably wouldn’t be in the same position he is right now. When I asked what advice he has for current ES students, and students considering the program, he said, “My biggest advice is to try new things while you can. I know the term ‘fail safely’ is thrown around, but I feel like you won’t fail. It’s more about just putting yourself in those uncomfortable positions until you find new lights, new processes, new methodologies in thinking.”

“My biggest advice is to try new things while you can. I know the term ‘fail safely’ is thrown around, but I feel like you won’t fail.”

As young artists, we’re often nervous about what our future careers might look like after we graduate. In a way, the ES program is a way of facing those fears head-on. It gives students a way to diversify their career choices and gain a well-rounded understanding of the world outside. And more importantly, it helps students add more layers to their creative lenses.