Mackenzie Dunn '12 already had a passion for art when she started ninth grade at Gill St. Bernard’s, but she credits her teachers there with helping to hone her skills and broaden her artistic perspective. And so far, it’s paid off beautifully.
"My teachers, especially Ms. Kunzman and Mr. Lutz, encouraged me to see all of the possibilities for a career in design and to challenge myself whenever I could," said Dunn, a senior at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design. "That was important to me because I want a career that participates in making the world better; I'm not interested solely in creating works of art, but rather in something that can bring about change." Dunn’s teachers also introduced her to the habit of keeping a sketchbook. According to Dunn, those sketchbooks turned out to be an important part of her application to Carnegie Mellon and they later proved invaluable in her design classes, where much of the focus was on process and discovering how projects evolve.
Dunn majors in Communication Design, a discipline she says "essentially looks at the ways information is communicated and how that communication can be designed most effectively, so that people can better understand and appreciate how the world works." The applications for communication design are essentially limitless. Alumni from CMU’s School of Design have created the Starbucks logo, the Pinterest interface and the typefaces for the Guardian newspaper. In addition to communication design, Dunn minors in psychology, something she finds to be a perfect pairing. "To design for people, you need to understand people – the way they act and think and take in information," she said.
For Dunn, the path to CMU was inspired by a GSB unit, in which she spent two weeks in Spain as an exchange student. "When I went to Spain, it was my first time traveling independently and my first time visiting a non-English-speaking country," she said. "I had to communicate and get around and be responsible for myself, all in another language. Within a few days, people were responding to me as though Spanish was my native language." Her trip to Spain instilled confidence and gave her the courage to enroll in pre-college summer design courses at Pratt Institute in New York City. "That experience made me realize that I wanted to apply to design programs, and I ended up writing about the subway system for my CMU application," she said.
As her college commencement approaches in May, Dunn has advice for graduating Gill seniors, including her sister, Lucy '16: "Follow your passion. College is stressful enough, but if you are studying something you love, it’s all worth it, and it’ll pay off in the end. When I started at Gill, I thought it would be impossible to be an artist because it wasn’t a steady job. I learned that design is not only a job; it’s a career." And, as a passionate designer, she also advocates taking chances. "When applying to colleges, go for one you don’t think you’re going to get into," she said. "I did, and it paid off in a big way. Build yourself a safety net first, but then take that leap."