Robert Sedlack, professor of visual communication design in Notre Dame’s Department of Art, Art History, and Design, has been named the winner of the 2015 Sheedy Excellence in Teaching Award.
“Robert is a visionary leader for the graphic design program,” said Associate Professor Richard Gray, chair of the Department of Art, Art History, and Design. “He has been one of our most productive and entrepreneurial teachers for 17 years—providing incredible leadership with curriculum development, innovative teaching methods, coordination of special programs and events for students, and alumni outreach.
“He is a forward thinker committed to using design for positive change, and he repeatedly instills these values in his students.”
The highest teaching honor in the University’s College of Arts and Letters, the Sheedy award was founded in 1970 in honor of the Rev. Charles E. Sheedy, C.S.C., who served as dean of the College from 1951 to 1969.
“Winning the Sheedy award is a wonderful accomplishment of which I am very proud,” Sedlack said. “Of course, it is the great work that my students have done that has gained me this recognition.”
The Sheedy award presentation was held on Wednesday, May 6. Watch the video here.
Mixing Compassion with Inspiration
Sedlack ’89 focuses his research and teaching on how design can have a life-changing impact when used in collaboration with organizations dedicated to social betterment. He gravitates toward projects that rely on graphic design to help inform and educate the public on social and cultural issues around the world.
“Robert tells his students that the job of a designer is to improve lives,” said Brandon Keelean ’13. “He says that design turns an existing situation into a preferred situation, and he reminds them—as he constantly reminded me—that people have powerful stories to tell if you only listen.”
Keelean, who is now a graphic designer at 50,000feet, a creative agency in Chicago, said Sedlack taught him more than professional skills—he showed him how to approach work and life.
“He wields compassion and leadership and inspires everyone around him to aspire to greater levels,” Keelean said.
Sedlack showcases that life philosophy in his senior-level course, Design for Social Good. In the class, students tackle a variety of issues that affect underserved, vulnerable, and marginalized populations.
“This class is truly remarkable,” said Assistant Professor Marie Bourgeois, who received her MFA from Notre Dame in 2012 and co-taught the course with Sedlack last year. “Its structure demands that students think differently and deeply about the cultures in which they live, the profession they have chosen to pursue, and the state of the world at large.”
Changing Lives for the Better
Robert Sedlack with students in South Africa
Students in the class have partnered with local organizations such as the South Bend Center for the Homeless and the Juvenile Justice Center, and have worked with foundations in Johannesburg, South Africa, on projects addressing xenophobia and combatting the social stigma of HIV/AIDS.
“I want the students to understand that they can do meaningful work that will benefit others,” Sedlack said. “And through this course, I really think the students begin to understand that design can be used to change lives for the better.”
Sedlack’s students have produced successful campaigns to drive donations of winter clothing for the Center for the Homeless, printed children’s books and educational materials now used in South African classrooms, and created murals and “Welcome to South Africa” guides informing immigrants of their rights.
With Keelean and other Design for Social Good students, Dan Azic ’13 helped develop the Together+ anti-xenophobia campaign in South Africa. Now a graphic designer at video-streaming service Epix in New York City, Azic said it was the most important work he’s ever done.
“At first, the project seemed impossible,” he said. “How could a few students in South Bend, Indiana, do anything about a problem so deeply rooted in South Africa? But thanks to Robert’s leadership and teaching, we were able to apply what we learned in class to impact a real-life problem.
“Together+ continues to grow and develop through the work of new design students at Notre Dame. Its continued success is a testament to the commitment Robert has to social change and to the ways he is able to connect with his students.”
Wit, Vision, and Heart
Sedlack’s ability to engage and challenge students in the classroom is equally inspiring, said MFA student Sarah Martin, who worked as a teaching assistant for Sedlack’s Introduction to Graphic Design course.
“In that first semester, I filled an entire notebook trying to transcribe the formula of Robert’s methodology in the classroom—his special alchemy of wit, commitment, vision, and heart,” Martin said.
That connection with his students was evident in the letters of support Sedlack received for his Sheedy Award nomination.
“Our years at Notre Dame will forever be defined by Robert’s accompaniment and encouragement,” two student nominators wrote. “Because of Robert, the Notre Dame design program teaches students not only how to create good design, but more importantly, how to create design that does good.”