Spotlight: NIC Emeritus brought digital programs into a new era

NIC Emeritus Susanne Sampson toiled for years to lay the groundwork for NIC’s Digital Design + Development programs, including establishing a committee of industry experts to advise the College on program curriculum.

Former NIC faculty member Susanne Sampson’s legacy can be seen in the small army of NIC alumni working as programmers and designers in businesses and sectors across Vancouver Island and beyond.

Sampson was added to NIC’s roster of distinguished alumni in 2019 for her role in creating NIC’s suite of Interactive Media programs, now the School of DIGITAL Design + Development.

Sampson was tasked with transforming the College’s graphic design training into a fast-paced, modern offering of programs that reflect the latest industry advances. She was joined by Frank Lu and Frank Niscak in 2006 when actual course development began.

“When I arrived at NIC in 1992, we didn’t have email and we didn’t use the Internet,” Sampson said. “We offered graphic design training in a small lab, now the Green Room. Two students shared one computer.”

Sampson cut her teeth as a designer and freelancer at various design studios in Vancouver and Montreal throughout the 1980s. In the 1990s she saw a changing industry landscape where digital training would become essential and knew that something had to change in NIC’s original graphics program.

“I said we were doing our students a disservice because we weren’t teaching web design,” she recalled.

“The other thing too was that graphic design programs were still being taught and designed for students in large, urban centres, where there were more opportunities to find work.

“We needed a solution for people who didn’t want to leave the area to work,” she added. “We needed a North Island solution and my premise was, we needed to teach design to programmers and programming to designers so that graduates were capable of working for themselves, from anywhere.”

With support from NIC leadership, Sampson set out to write the new programs. All told, the task took five years, including roughly three-and-a-half years for research and writing and another 18 months for formal approvals. But by the end, Sampson, Lu and Niscak had created NIC’s initial four interactive media programs. The combination of web design and graphic design fundamentals formed the bedrock of what would become NIC’s DIGITAL Design + Development programs.

Sampson even went on sabbatical in 2001 to familiarize herself with programming skills in order to create the new program so her students could have the industry skills they would need to succeed.

When it became logistically impossible to bring her classes to visit design studios in Vancouver due to increasing class sizes, Sampson created the Interactive Media advisory committee (now the DIGITAL Design + Development Advisory committee) — a group of industry experts that advises NIC on keeping the curriculum in line with an industry that is always changing.

“This is not a profession you stagnate in,” she said. “If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards.”

Sampson is now retired but continues to take satisfaction in the work she sees coming from graduates and current students.

“I have such confidence in the program going forward,” she said.

To learn more about NIC Emeritus designates, visit: