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The Communicator


Student-focused faculty member offers opportunity with Adobe testing pilot program

Ron Smith in class with students
Ron Smith reviews a design project with some students.

One of the first things you notice about Ron Smith, at least on this day, is his mask. He’s wearing a mask adorned with different Adobe logos — offering a hint at his focus for helping Bellisario College students improve and grow.

Smith is an assistant teaching professor in the Department of Advertising/Public Relations, and he is much more than that. He’s passionate about graphic design, teaching and sharing his expertise with the next generation.

That was not always Smith’s focus, though.

“I wanted to be an architect in high school and I started off as an architectural major, but I couldn’t just draw cool buildings I had to learn math to make it stand up, so eventually I found that design and advertising was a good combination,” Smith said.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass media at the University of Cincinnati, he went to Michigan State for his master’s degree. At Michigan State, Smith studied advertising. A course in software and desktop publishing helped him find his passion.

“I did have a professor or two who were great mentors to help me pursue that kind of career,” Smith said. He eventually became a designer before teaching. He worked in Washington, D.C., for some nonprofits before he moved into teaching.

While working Smith had opportunities to mentor others and help them with software skills. Those experiences gave him the idea taking a path of teaching.

With his background in graphic design and the goal of providing more opportunities to the next generation, Smith tries to offer different opportunities to Bellisario College students as often as possible. His primary focus is on design and he brings alumni and local professionals to class so they can talk about their jobs and experiences.

Smith launched a one-credit course that uses Adobe media graphics tools to teach students how to use Photoshop and InDesign.

"In addition to that course, COMM 268 Media Graphics, which addresses digital literacy, InDesign and Photoshop, I also teach a design-based course, COMM468, where I teach students basic Illustrator to intermediate Illustrator,” Smith said. “Students use and apply what they learned on Illustrator and on jobs, courses and student groups, visual things they create for student groups."

Smith regularly emphasizes the idea of “design literacy.”

“The one-credit course we created and launched COMM 268, I would not call it a design course. I would call it digital literacy that gets students experienced,” Smith said. “Anyone in the Bellisario College can and should take one of the four sections we offer every semester and that would get them comfortable with the software.”

It’s much more than just a comfort level with some software for him, though. Smith believes that comfort and familiarity can transfer into career success in advertising and public relations firms, or almost anyplace a student get their first job in the field of communications.

“I have many alums who were advertising majors and are working as an accounting executive at an advertising agency, and ,they tell me they are more likely to do something in InDesign than in Photoshop. So knowing these packages of software in the media advertising industry is very helpful and even needed in some ways for many students."

Because of those benefits for students has launched an effort to help students gain official certifications on Illustrator.

As an “Adobe Creative Campus” Penn State students at can use any Adobe Software on their personal computer for free while they are a student. That software can be a costly investment for students at some other schools.

The next step was a partnership with the company that conducts professional-level Adobe exams for designers around the country. Early in the fall semester, Smith led a small group of students through an on-campus test — a 50-minute exam conducted by Certiport. The handful of students selected to participate each had more than 150 hours of experience using the software.

It’s an investment in time, but one Smith thinks will pay off for students in the future if the testing process can be implemented regularly at Penn State..

“If they know basically 70 to 80% of what they are getting tested on, that will be able to pass the exam and they can put on their resume or their CV or their LinkedIn that they have their Adobe certification. I think the official term is certified professional illustrator,” Smith said.

Libby Gregg, a recent advertising/public relations graduate who took three courses with Smith as a student, came back to campus to take this test.

“He was talking about this exam that gets someone certified in Illustrator and I thought it was a really good idea adding to the resume and it was really fun,” Gregg said.

She was very confident about how the test went. She said the courses Smith provided and the combination of having a review session was a great help for her to preparation.

Senior Austin Berry said his class with Smith was a great way to be prepared for the test.

“I would say that class and a little bit of external experience would be enough. Class alone probably won’t be enough to pass,” Berry said. “We had a separate session to prepare for this test a couple of days ago and then I myself have the external experience to get that extra level that I think you probably need to pass.”

All students who took the test agreed that Smith’s class is a good start to prepare for the test. Also, his help outside of the class gave them a little more confidence.

“I reviewed the five-page pdf that Certiport puts out with the exam objectives and bullet point things for the test takers to know. So I reviewed it, looked over the stuff that I thought was obscure to me and would be obscure to them and unknown,” Smith said. :I did some of it in the Zoom session but I told them here are couple of other things to look at yourself before the exam.”

Students who took the test also had experience working outside of the classroom with him. And he’s consistently willing to mentor students and help them improve.

“I work with students in independent studies who know the software and learned some design whether in my course of some of them bring it in from high school. Some of them worked in the Collegian and so continue to teach one of two courses InDesign and getting students more experienced than that,” Smith said. "I am also the design faculty mentor for CommAgency and design mentor for advertising competition team.”

Cassie Baker (senior-graphic design) has worked with smith at CommAgency and has a good amount of practical experience. Even with her experience, she said the testing opportunity was important — and appreciated.

“The main reason I wanted to this was it’s going to look really good on my resume because you don’t see very many people that have the certification,” Baker said.

Smith has hopes for even more student testing. He’s hoping to grow testing and certification efforts of Adobe products for students in his department and beyond.

“I may only know and teach Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator, but our film faculty and students would certainly be eligible and qualified to take the Premiere, After Effects, Dreamweaver tests potentially,” he said.

Violet Zung
Violet Zung

'22 Journ