Alexandra Schmidt-Ullrich, a professor of product design II, engages students in the discussion of their projects on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, in Building C on Mountaintop. Schmidt-Ullrich is a new professor in the art, architecture and design department. (FangMing Song/B&W Staff)

New professor teaches design locally and abroad

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A lover of fine arts and an expert of design, Alexandra Schmidt-Ullrich brings an interdisciplinary approach to her teaching as a new professor in the art, architecture and design department.

Schmidt-Ullrich said she has always been interested in industrial design and product design. 

“I really appreciate the scale of architecture, but I was always interested in the details which lend themselves well to product design,” she said.

After receiving a master’s in architecture from the University of Pennsylvania, she returned to teach architecture studio and then furniture design at the graduate and undergraduate level. Schmidt-Ullrich started teaching exclusively industrial design, which is similar to product design. 

Schmidt-Ullrich said she also loves photography, printmaking, materials and woodshop, and she enjoys working with her hands to build things. 

She brings all of these elements to teaching product design. 

“Professor Schmidt-Ullrich is super nice,” said Victoria Kwiatkowski, ‘21. “I enjoy being in her product design class because she meets with us in small groups to give critical feedback on work, and really just cares about her students.”.

In the class, the first project had students researching and analyzing the process of cooking. Schmidt-Ullrich said she is very interested in food and the role it has in daily life from a design perspective, but also from a well-being perspective.

“I do think design is supposed to make our everyday lives better,” she said. 

Students were tasked with designing a cooking tool out of wood for their own purpose.

Schmidt-Ullrich said she wants students to have reasons and defined thinking behind their projects an awareness. She said they shouldn’t design something just because they “like” it.

Alexandra Harris, ‘21, a product design major, said she chose product design instead of graphic design because she wants to develop her technical 3D rendering skills and creative design mindset. She said she wants to work somewhere where she can create actual products for the world that improve consumer experience. 

“I love how professor Schmidt-Ullrich teaches (the class) because projects are extremely hands-on and begin by having us explore tons of our own ideas before settling on one,” Harris said.  “She gives very wide boundaries for project explanations so nothing feels too cookie-cutter. She always arranges time to meet in small groups or personally, to critique and assist our work throughout the project process.”

Harris said she would love to attend Schmidt-Ullrich’s five-week study abroad program this summer if she didn’t already have an internship lined up. 

The study abroad program is in Vienna, Austria, run by a non-profit. It is immersive, and students live with families, Harris said.

While the program is associated with a small institute that serves as the home base, Schmidt-Ullrich said students do not stay in the classroom, but meet outside the class to see how they work and think. 

“Everyone is armed with a sketchbook, a camera, and (they) have their ears, mind and heart open to what is being shared with them,” Schmidt-Ullrich said. 

The group has the opportunity to visit landscape architecture offices. Schmidt-Ullrich said it’s not just a 45-minute PowerPoint presentation — but that the trip is immersive and exploratory.  

The group also visits jewelry designers, artists, type designers and graphic designers. They attend cultural events such as an opera, symphony and a ballet, Schmidt-Ullrich said.

The program was originally centered around architecture, but it has become interdisciplinary and open to any students that are interested in design, Schmidt-Ullrich said. She said it is open to any major. 

Applications are still being accepted, and Schmidt-Ullrich said to reach out to her with questions. The program runs from May 19 to June 19, 2020.

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