Graphic design instructor encourages students to combine faith and vocation

February 21, 2012

For Assistant Professor of Graphic Design Trey Shirley there is more to his work than simply teaching his students the finer points of design.

A key element of the Wayland Baptist University instructor’s message centers around social awareness and responsibility. Through that emphasis, Shirley has found a way to make his passion his ministry.

“In each of my classes, I try to do one assignment that has social responsibility in it,” Shirley, who is heading up Wayland’s new major in graphic design, explained.

This past semester, the project was entitled the “Global Water Crisis” and focused on data taken from the 2006 Human Development Report, “Beyond Scarcity: Power, Poverty and the Global Water Crisis.”

The main point of the project was that “One in six people do not have access to clean water.”

Students were instructed to use the graphic design concepts they had been studying to create a 10” x 16” poster addressing the issue. 

Shirley’s motive for the project was simple.

“When you design for something specific, you’re thinking about it from so many different angles. There also is something intimate about designing for a cause,” he said.

Shirley went on to explain that projects of this type force his students to focus on the issue at hand and his hope is that through that process they will develop a personal connection with the issue.

As it turns out, that approach to teaching stems from what Shirley is convinced is a call to ministry, albeit an unconventional one. He has a bachelor’s degree in graphic design and a Master’s of Divinity from Abilene Christian University.

From a ministerial standpoint, he spent three years serving as a youth minister.

Shirley admitted that initially he felt his call was to be a preacher. However, over time he realized that God had other ideas.

“I thought I was going to be a pulpit minister but found a stronger calling to teach,” he said, before describing the change in focus.

“I love preaching. I really do. There’s just so many other aspects of teaching that I’m better suited for than being a pastor.

“Play to your strengths,” he continued.

Part of Shirley’s goal is to help students understand how they can use their chosen vocation as an instrument of ministry. He hopes that students understand that as they work in a career of graphic design or the arts they should not lose touch with their faith.

“All work is kingdom work,” he said.

He explained that he encourages students to explore how they can impact the world through combining their faith and their vocation.

The Global Water Crisis project was an assignment for his Design II class in which students addressed the notion of visual communication.

“We’re studying what it means to use imagery to make it into a visual language,” he said.

In this particular assignment students were instructed to focus on simplicity — design a project that catches the attention of the public and then delivers a serious message.

or Kate Trejos, a senior from Bogota, Columbia, the assignment was a technical challenge. Trejos came to Wayland to play volleyball and is majoring in graphic design after studying industrial design in Columbia. 

From a technical perspective, she explained that she wanted to combine “dirty” elements (referring to her font choices) with a photo of a child which she felt suggested future generations. At the same time, she wanted imagery that would catch a person’s eye and stop them, while she incorporated a tool that would bring them closer to the poster to read its message.

The end result was a poster that showed a child drinking dirty water and had fonts that were a bit difficult to read at first glance, forcing the viewer to stop and focus on the message.

Of the social responsibility aspect of the assignment, Trejos said it made her more aware of the fact that water is a resource.

“You can’t take that for granted,” she said. “From generation to generation we have to be aware of those things.”

Gilberto Reyes, a senior baseball player from the Dominican Republic, agreed that the assignment was eye-opening. His project featured six water bottles, one of which was crushed.

Reyes said he was impressed with the amount of information he was able to find as he worked on the project.

“That put it more in perspective. I know that a lot of people don’t have good water, but I never knew the kind of numbers (Professor Shirley) gave us,” he said.

Reyes said he likes the notion of combining his faith with his vocational interests, pointing out that he believes people need to find a more universal way to communicate the Christian message.

He said the challenge would be to create a project that was positive and not judgmental . . . that would be received not only as a quality project, but for its message, as well.

“I love doing that. I think it would be fun to create something that would display a message like that,” he said.

For Shirley, that kind of enthusiasm is what he is wanting and he hopes it will spur his students to look for more opportunities to use their talents as ministries. However, he pointed out, they will have to be aggressive and creative in their search.

“Those opportunities do come, but you have to go looking for them,” he said.