Jodi Staniunas-Hopper, associate professor of Art, and her class of senior Graphic Design majors recently designed and distributed a coloring book for third-grade students in the Erie community. The project was done in conjunction with Career Street, UPMC Health Plan and PNC Bank.
Career Street is a community service program made possible by the Erie County Vocational-Technical School Foundation. It seeks to provide education to youth and give them the skills and knowledge of potential careers they can have later in life. Career Street’s website states that its goal is “to unite employers, schools and nonprofit organizations in the pursuit of a well-prepared future workforce and to help better prepare students for the careers they want.”
Staniunas-Hopper has done previous work with Career Street and was in contact with Jennifer Nygaard Pontzer, executive director of Career Street, about things that could be done on Mercyhurst’s campus to spread awareness. The team decided on a coloring book that would be distributed to children in Erie who may not be aware of the array of careers in the area.
“My students were a little confused at why we were doing the project at first because it’s hard for us to imagine not having an adult role model in our lives — someone who can tell you what careers are and that you can be whatever you want,” said Staniunas-Hopper. “Once we started talking about this issue, we began to think about how to tie this all together.”
The coloring book project became part of the graphic design students’ Senior Portfolio Development class. In Portfolio Development, students must put together all of their previous work in a portfolio and design one last client project. Career Street became the final client for this group of seniors.
Staniunas-Hopper and the students decided to model the book after the children’s book “Nothing Ever Happens on My Street,” by Ellen Raskin. The book tells the story of a boy who is oblivious to the amazing things happening around him because he believes that nothing ever happens there. This coloring book is personalized to the children as it is titled “Something is Always Happening in [My Town].”
“We thought about what it’s like going down State Street in Erie and who it is the kids can meet along the way. The kids in the book take a walk starting at Academy High School, as we imagined that being their school,” said Staniunas-Hopper.
The students took liberties with what was included along this walk as they moved locations of the Erie sites. At each location on their journey, the kids meet people who have careers such as teachers, mechanics, business people, farmers, doctors and architects, and learn about what they can do within these fields.
“The book gives some talking points for parents and children,” said Staniunas-Hopper. “It makes children think about what they might have to do to be something and to achieve that goal.”
As simple as a coloring book may be, it can have a world of impact on children and their aspirations for the future. Not only did this project impact the third-grade students, but also the seniors who worked on the project.
“This was the beginning of a Beyond the Gates experience for seniors,” said Staniunas-Hopper. “It was an opportunity for them to think about students out there who don’t have someone in their life, saying, ‘When you grow up you can be anything.’”
Staniunas-Hopper believes that this experience was very special for the seniors and is a perfect example of how we keep the Mercy tradition here at Mercyhurst.
“It was an experience of difference about how people all have differences in going through life,” said Staniunas-Hopper. “My students were amazed that something they could do could have an impact on someone else’s life.”
The third-graders received their books but Mercyhurst has not yet heard what the reaction was. Staniunas-Hopper is very positive about expected reactions from the school and students.