Julian Osorio can tell you a lot about graphic design: His mad Illustrator skills turn digital lines into cartoon characters, and his layout tricks glue eyes to the page even if it reads “LOOK AWAY.” He’s also mastered educating a classroom of near-peers as a graduate teaching assistant.
Julian is in his second year of graduate school in Graphic Design at Iowa State University. He’s working toward his MFA with aspirations to teach. After sending in his portfolio and an application letter in the fall of 2013, he was offered a teaching assistant position. He leads a classroom for levels 1 and 2 of graphic design technology. His professor, Paul Bruski, stands back while Julian lectures, guides, and assesses aspiring designers, providing some moderation in the form of regular discussion and suggestions.
Julian’s day-to-day during the school year goes something like this:
Alarm sounds. Snooze. Just 10 more minutes.
Ah! Gotta run! A blur of a shower stream, diving into a pile of clothes, throwing on jeans and a plaid button-up shirt, and tossing leftovers into a lunchbox. He sprints to the campus bus, Cyride, with coffee in hand — he never forgets the coffee.
Arrive at the College of Design and step into the sun-filled atrium. Trudge up two flights of steps and enter the classroom. Only forty emails to answer to his lead professor, his own professors, and to his students. One student asks for an extension on the design that’s due today. He makes a note to talk to him after class about missing deadlines, because he sees this pupil’s potential, and he’s going to ensure that it’s met.
Two hours of teaching: about half an hour of lecture, another half an hour of taking students step-by-step through a new design technique, and then letting the students loose with an assignment. Work gets critiqued, corrected, and reviewed and students are reminded a total of at least five times about deadlines and homework. One student didn’t do her exploration of typeface. But there’s another one that crafted an illustration that makes professionals question their skills — and teaches him a thing or two.
He answers a few new emails from his professors. He has a few meetings he needs to go to for a performance review and to sign paperwork, so he’ll get feedback and get paid. With the time left, he tries to tackle his own homework.
Rush to class on graphic design and human interaction. Professor asks for homework to be turned in. He realizes he forgot to do that last night in-between critiquing his first class’ projects. This isn’t like him at all. He stays after class to talk to his professor and ask for an extension.
Run back to office. Check email again. Respond to student questions. One’s asking about the assignment he went over five times in class…five times. He holds his tongue as he types back the answer (which is to complete a page design layout in InDesign for a fictitious magazine, due in a week).
Buy food from the College of Design café. Runs into a student with one of his own fellow classmates. They spend a good ten minutes chatting and laughing. Force legs up steps again. Check emails one last time. His students need advice — which he happily gives — and his professor wants to see him first thing tomorrow morning.
Head for the apartment. Begrudge doing that assignment the professor allowed an extension for. Eyes burn. Body aches. Got to cook something for the next day.
Sit in front of computer again. Prepare lecture for the next day. Grade a few assignments, critiques provided. Set aside after he gets through ten, and works on his own assignment.
Sounds like a roller coaster? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 126,000 students take on overcrowding their hours with TA responsibilities — for $30,000 a year in the form of a monthly stipend, with tuition covered. This is a lot more pay than other jobs grad students can snag. And for Julian, it makes sense for his goals.
“Becoming a TA gives you plenty of opportunities to practice your teaching persona, develop course syllabi, talk to students, lecture, exchange with faculty, learn the system from within. It is also corresponding to a scholarship, so as a TA, the college pays a part of your tuition and a monthly stipend,” Osorio said.
When school’s out, it’s a harsh budget, though. And when school’s in, there can be frustrating moments with burnout students, yourself included. But Julian believes it’s still worth it.
“The ride is a lot of fun. It’s great to see my students get jobs and move forward and apply some of my advice into their work.”