AICAD Exchange student Skylar Storkamp, middle, with friends in Portland, Oregon
AICAD Exchange student Skylar Storkamp, middle, with friends in Portland, Oregon

Not all of MCAD's off-campus study options require you to travel super far from home.

MCAD has lots of off-campus study opportunities. The most popular seem to be the options in Germany, Italy, and other countries abroad, but for many students, these options aren’t feasible or desirable. So I'm here to let you know about two additional choices that are a little closer to home. Not being very familiar with the opportunities myself, I got in touch with MCAD staff Britt Nelson, who manages the AICAD Exchange at MCAD, and River Gordon, MCAD’s registrar who orchestrates the Macalester College Exchange, as well as a student who participated in the AICAD Exchange this past semester to learn more.

“We can send students to and from each other’s schools, with students paying the same tuition as they would at their home school.”


Hey, Britt! So, what is the AICAD Exchange?

Britt: AICAD stands for the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design, and MCAD is a part of that consortium. Roughly thirty-five art and design schools throughout the US and Canada are included, and part of being in this consortium is that we can send students to and from each other’s schools, with students paying the same tuition as they would at their home school. So, depending on the school you choose to study at, you can get quite a deal! It’s a really great way for students to get off campus and experience a different city, different school, different curriculum, different faculty, different visiting artists, different artist communities. It’s something that not many MCAD students have been taking advantage of, but it’s starting to pick up a little bit more!

What are some reasons students decide to do the AICAD Exchange?

It all depends on what students want to get out of studying off-campus. Some students want the culture shock going abroad and they want to have the international experience, and there are other students that don’t feel comfortable going abroad so this is a great alternative. MCAD is great and we have a lot to offer, but you don’t know what you might be missing unless you get out of here. Every student that has done AICAD Exchange learns something that they wouldn’t have here, and usually they appreciate MCAD a little bit more. It’s kind of a give and take, depending on where they go; there are benefits and drawbacks.

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach near Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD); photo via LCAD's website

Out of all the schools in the consortium, which would you say have been the most popular choice among students here?

We’ve sent the most students to Laguna College of Art and Design. We have two students there right now, actually. It’s in Laguna, California, so it’s near the ocean. They have a really good animation and game design program. It’s one of those situations where you can take classes that we don’t offer here (for instance we don’t have a game design program), and you can still get those studio elective credits by taking stuff that you’re really interested in. You can broaden your horizons.

And there are even some schools in Canada, right?

Emily Carr University of Art and Design is in Vancouver, the Ontario College of Art and Design is in Toronto, and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design is in Nova Scotia. We actually had a Canadian AICAD Exchange student here last fall. He loved MCAD so much that he wanted to stay, but it didn’t work out with his graduation plans. In my four years here, we’ve sent one student to Emily Carr and one to Ontario. So you can still get that international experience just by traveling a little bit north, which is nice!

Are there any schools that you would recommend to MCAD students?

To be honest, I don’t know enough about each school to be able to say based on what each of them offers. We did lose a student to Laguna College because she loved it there so much, and I don’t see that as a failure but more of a positive thing! Of course, we love when our students come back and they can be ambassadors for the program, but I think it just goes to show that you don’t know what you're missing until you go out and explore your options. If students are interested in a specific area of art or design that we don’t offer here, they can look on the AICAD Exchange website and find a school that does offer what they're looking for.

What does it mean to be an ambassador for the AICAD Exchange program?

I refer to everyone that goes off-campus, whether through the AICAD Exchange or studying abroad, as Off-Campus Ambassadors. It’s a way of bridging the gap between students who have gone on these programs and students who are interested in going or have been accepted. I always tell students, "I can give you all the facts about these programs but I can’t tell you what it’s actually like to be a part of them and do it." The ambassadors are the students I rely on to pass along that information, like how did you get to your apartment from the airport? Did you take a train? How did you exchange money? You know, all those little things that are super important and that I can’t speak to. Plus, it's something that students can put it on their resumes.

How do you apply to AICAD Exchange?

You can actually apply directly to the school through an online portal; it's very easy. It’s a really great opportunity!  

Thank you, Britt!


Macalester College Campus; photo via Macalester's website

If you're thinking, “Alright, AICAD Exchange is cool, but I'm looking for something even closer to home,” then the Macalester College Exchange might be a better fit for you. River Gordon is the expert in this area, and is always willing to answer your questions through email or in person! 

Hey, River! So, what is the Macalester Exchange?

River: There’s another consortium of private colleges called the Associated Colleges of the Twin Cities (ACTC), that both MCAD and Macalester are a part of. Macalester is a private liberal arts college in St. Paul. Basically, the exchange allows their students to come over here and register for individual classes, and vice versa. And as long as the faculty gives approval, those courses count towards the degree program at the student's home school.

What type of classes do students usually register for at Macalester?

A lot of the time it's stuff in the liberal arts vein, usually language courses. MCAD only offers two language courses and they are specific to art and design, so over there it’s what you would expect at any liberal arts school with a whole assortment of foreign languages. Then there are history classes and other liberal arts offerings that we don't have here. That’s the key; it has to be something that we don’t offer here. On the flipside, a lot of Macalester people come over here for the studio offerings we have. Most semesters, there are a few Macalester students here, and some do it for more than one semester. It just depends on what each student is looking for.

What is the process for taking a class at Macalester?

The first step is to look at Macalester's course offerings. Once you find a class you hope to take, contact the course instructor and make sure it’s okay for you to participate. Then, the student forwards that approval email to the MCAD Records Office. Students should always contact MCAD Records, let us know they are interested in the exchange, and forward the faculty permission at that time. Then we contact Macalester to let them know, “Hey, we’ve got a student over here that’s interested in Portuguese,” or what have you, then we’ll work with them to get you registered. It’s usually on a space-available basis in both schools. The regular and continuing students at Macalester get to register first, and then if there’s space left an MCAD student can get a spot.

How does it work with Macalester being over in St. Paul?

That’s definitely something to consider. If you don’t have your own car, there are still a few transportation options available to you. Their class schedules don’t exactly line up with ours, especially with some of the language classes that include labs, so you’ll be going there a couple times a week. But if you can make that work, then it’s great!

Thanks, River!



Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA); photo via PNCA's website

As Britt said, often the best advice comes from people who've already participated in what that you're interested in trying, so I also followed up with Off-Campus Ambassador Skylar Storkamp. A bachelor of science senior, Skylar studied communication design at the Pacific Northwest College of Art this past semester.

Why did you decide to participate in the AICAD Exchange?

Skylar: I wanted to try something different. I also knew that Portland was a place I could see myself potentially living someday. I decided to take advantage of an opportunity to network, meet new friends, and live in a different environment.


Skylar Storkamp (left) exploring Portland with her roommate

What was it like studying off-campus?

Honestly, it was hard. Figuring out a new school and how everything works (or doesn't) was an adventure. It challenged me in ways that I couldn't have planned for even if I tried. PNCA pushed me in ways that MCAD didn't. Portland is a wonderful, different kind of art scene and I learned how to sustain things on my own when moving across the country to try out a new school and new environment. I would do it all over again if I could. Bijan Berahimi, a Cal Arts graduate, is a current PNCA teacher and taught me to believe in my ability to create new things that I thought were unattainable. His unique critique skills helped me understand my work in a new light with fresh eyes.

Are there any significant stories or events that have taken place while you've been there?

Nothing "big," but all of the little things made it significant to me. I lived in a completely different environment. The mindset in Oregon is simultaneously similar and extremely different than in Minnesota. The school challenged me and I often missed MCAD's resources and teachers. I met some of the best people this world has to offer, and I took full advantage of networking with certain companies like Nike HQ. If I had to pick one significant memory it would be of one of my teachers. She was quite possibly the rudest, least kind teacher I've ever had; she tore me down, made me cry, and pushed me to my limits. But in return, I created some of the best physical work I have ever made in school thus far. I learned hands on, because if I didn't I was shamed for it. It is a VERY different environment from the safe classrooms that Jerry Allan has taught me in for three years, but change and challenge are good. She taught me how to deal with difficult authority figures and still believe in myself at the end of the day.

A magazine spread Skylar created while at PNCA

What was your favorite part?

My favorite part was working with new students, taking trips to the ocean and mountains, and spending time with my roommates: Dune, Milo, and Red. I was beyond blessed to be placed with people who made my experience of PNCA tolerable and always memorable. And, just because the school was hard, does not mean that I didn't have the time of my life, made amazing work, and created life long connections with people that I now call life long friends and teachers. Also, MCAD was extremely helpful in helping me apply to other schools in the AICAD Exchange and figuring out which credits would transfer in so that I still may graduate on time.

Thanks, Skylar, it sounds like you conquered the hardships of navigating a brand new school and learned a lot from it! 


There are so many options for studying away from MCAD's campus, especially for students who want to study mediums and subjects that MCAD doesn't offer currently, like fashion design, architecture, glassblowing, ceramics, interior design, jewelry making, as well as other language and history courses. As Skylar mentioned, there are other benefits to studying off-campus as well, like discovering a new city (maybe your new home!), making important connections and good friends that you wouldn't have otherwise, and learning how to navigate the world outside of what you're used to.