Graphic Design Major Earns Prestigious Fulbright Selection

By Tom McLaughlin

Graphic design, explains Sheridan Waterfall, is much more than meets the eye.

Waterfall says that it was “an absolutely eye-opening experience” participating in the prestigious Fulbright Summer Institute.

For the Rutgers University–Camden student, a visual concept depends not only the confluence of design elements, but the cultural context in which a work is interpreted – a crucial element that she has only just recently begun to discover.

“It was so easy to get stuck in an isolated mindset by working and creating in the same environment,” says the sophomore graphic design major. “It’s amazing to realize how my work can be seen and felt differently across cultures.”

The Egg Harbor Township resident credits “an absolutely eye-opening experience” for changing her perspective, when she was selected from candidates nationwide to participate in the prestigious Fulbright Summer Institute at the University of Westminster in London this past July.

The U.S.-U.K. Commission hosts the annual three-week academic and cultural program – under this year’s theme, “Future Leaders in a Global Age” – to give United States students a unique opportunity to develop global and leadership skills while studying art, media, and culture.

“I was very excited to participate in one of the most prestigious and selective summer programs operating worldwide,” says Waterfall, an Honors College student who attended Chartertech High School for the Performing Arts in Somers Point. “I had the opportunity to strengthen my leadership abilities in an international context, while further developing as a designer studying in a cultural capital of the world.”

It proved to be a banner summer for Waterfall, who also studied urban navigation in Germany earlier in the season, courtesy of a raffle she had won that was hosted by Rutgers–Camden’s Office of New Student Programs.

For her London encore, Waterfall had the rare privilege to soak in the city’s rich artistic culture. She recalls that she lived in the hip Shoreditch section of East London – a great place for an art major, she says – and took classes at the University of Westminster in the same building where members of the band Pink Floyd had met.

While studying in London, Waterfall had the rare privilege to soak in the city’s rich artistic culture.

She also routinely took the chance to venture off on her own, taking in live music, visiting popular attractions such as the famed London Eye, and hunting for graffiti and other forms of street art, including two Banksy pieces across the street from where she lived.

Among her favorite experiences was a visit to the Design Museum, which highlighted the composition of everyday objects and the thought that went into their designs. She also enjoyed perusing newspapers, magazines, and signs around the city, where she would see firsthand the differences in advertising practices in the United States and the United Kingdom.

“I could see how the U.K.’s focus on the ‘soft sell’ – an indirect approach that draws consumers in – was much different than Americans’ focus on a splashier ‘hard sell’ – a more aggressive approach intended to convey vital information as quickly as possible,” says Waterfall.

The experience, she says, made her realize that, although American and British cultures might seem similar – sharing similar languages, music, and pop culture – subtle contrasts can make all the difference when it comes to selling a product or service and negotiating business.

“Before you go into a meeting with someone from a different culture, it is important to know, for instance, that a handshake or a high five is never universal,” says the South Carolina native. “Similar rules apply to advertising.”

Looking back now, says the graphic design major, she is extremely grateful to have been given an exceptional opportunity to learn and grow.

“I could never afford to study and learn abroad, so I never even had those plans in my sights,” says Waterfall. “This grant allowed me to return home a more effective leader and a more insightful artist.”

Waterfall adds that, with the application assistance afforded by the Office of Scholar Development and Fellowship Advising at Rutgers–Camden, she feels more inspired than ever to give back to organizations that help others. She currently gives campus tours as a Raptor Ambassador and has been active – even handling social media and designing flyers – with the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group, a student organization that promotes free books for students.

The Rutgers–Camden sophomore believes that her expanded mindset will continue to pay dividends as the world becomes a more global community.

“New perspectives can create new meanings, alter your views of art, and ultimately give you different ways of looking things,” she says. “I am thrilled to have learned and grown beyond my limited understanding of the environment where I was raised.”

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