Experience, by design
TU’s student-run design agency marks 25 years.
M. Teresa Valero with Emily Steward and Hannah Hudspeth, students in the Third Floor Design program at the University of Tulsa. 108 Contemporary is one of the student-run design agency’s biggest clients.
M. Teresa Valero, director of the University of Tulsa School of Art and the TU advertising program, could have taught the next generation of graphic designers solely between the four walls of a classroom. Instead, she developed Third Floor Design, a student-run graphic design agency to give promising college juniors and seniors real-world experience.
As a result, Valero’s Third Floor students have provided nearly $1 million worth of pro bono design services to more than 200 Tulsa-area nonprofits since 1992.
Third Floor, an invitation-only course in TU’s Kendall College of Arts and Sciences, operates just like a real-life design firm. Once chosen through an application process, nonprofit clients visit Third Floor to communicate their needs — ranging from a piece of marketing collateral to a total rebrand — and students get to work on several concepts. The client chooses their favorite approach and Third Floor delivers, ultimately presenting the finished project to the client. Five new graphic design students are accepted into the program each semester, and students continue the course through their senior year.
“At the heart of Third Floor is that we are getting designers ready for the world and giving them the opportunity to care about their community and a specific organization,” says Valero, the program’s creative director.
Since she co-founded Third Floor with Stephen Sumner, former director of the School of Art, 135 students have gone through the program with 100 percent job placement.
Third Floor alumnus Can Misirlioglu received not one, but two job offers before graduating from TU in 2001. Now he is the group creative director for Studio 6, a creative content studio within the Havas advertising agency. He oversees 45 people in his New York City office.
“Third Floor Design had the potential to be just an idea,” Misirlioglu says. “But the way Teresa runs it and how passionate she is makes it a privilege for anyone who experiences it.”