Erin Rice ’17 has been named one of the top five graduating industrial design students in the nation by the Industrial Designers Society of America.
Rice is the seventh student in the last 10 years from Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters to win the Student Merit Award at IDSA’s Midwest District Design Conference.
“IDSA’s Student Merit Award is one of the most prestigious honors for undergraduates in industrial design, and our continued success reflects the quality of our students and the industrial design program we offer here at Notre Dame,” said Scott Shim, a professor in the Department of Art, Art History and Design. “Erin’s projects exhibit excellent traditional core competencies of industrial design, but it is her holistic approach that sets her apart.”
Rice’s work will be featured at the IDSA International Design Conference in Atlanta in August, where she will accept the award.
“This award belongs to the whole Notre Dame design community — particularly my peers and professors who provided unending support and guidance,” Rice said. “I am so honored and thankful to receive an award that leads to so many amazing opportunities and to be able to represent the strength of the Notre Dame design program.”
Rice is particularly proud to be part of the first year in which all district-level Student Merit Award winners are women.
“The industrial design field has been historically male-dominated, so it’s exciting to see women emerging as leaders, creative thinkers, builders, and designers,” she said.
Rice, who has concentrations in both industrial design and visual communication design, said the combination was critical to her development as a designer.
“Notre Dame’s design program is one of the few in the nation where industrial design and visual communications design work hand in hand,” she said. “Visual communication design taught me to communicate efficiently and clearly, while industrial design helped develop my problem-solving, problem-framing, and technical skills.
“Both emphasize the need for a user-ended empathetic design approach, which is highly relatable across other fields such as engineering and business.”
“Notre Dame’s design program is one of the few in the nation where industrial design and visual communications design work hand in hand. Visual communication design taught me to communicate efficiently and clearly, while industrial design helped develop my problem-solving, problem-framing, and technical skills."
Erin Rice (far right, seated) and her team discuss their Disney Imagineering Imaginations Design Competition project with faculty member Scott Shim.
Rice embraced that user-focused approach in a Collaborative Design Development course last fall — in which she worked as part of an interdisciplinary team of four students who won second prize in the Walt Disney Imagineering Imaginations Design Competition.
After graduation, she began working for Walt Disney Imagineering’s Design Team through its professional internship program. Disney Imagineers are the minds behind the stories, experiences, and design of theme parks, resorts, cruises, and attractions worldwide.
“The collaborative design class I took in the fall directly led to me being hired by Disney,” Rice said. “I’m excited to use my skills as an industrial and visual communications designer there to become a true storyteller.”
Rice completed five design internships during her undergraduate career — including two in London while studying abroad in 2014.
“The Notre Dame design program constantly offers opportunities to connect with design professionals, and the professors are passionate about the importance of internships,” she said. “The real-world experience I gained helped me better understand the person I want to be and what I want to do.”
As Rice begins her career, she said she will carry the lessons she learned at Notre Dame for the rest of her life.
“Notre Dame truly wants every student to harness their passion and to use that passion to serve the greater good,” she said. “The University has built a community around the finest academic resources, to work in service of social justice and human solidarity.”
Nowhere is that more true, she said, than in Notre Dame’s design program.
“I felt it in my junior year of high school when I first visited Notre Dame and met the late Robert Sedlack, who led the design program at the time,” Rice said. “He became a mentor to me and helped me appreciate design as a means of social impact. His legacy continues to guide students and faculty and is very much alive in my work as a designer.”