State OKs Five Towns computer-graphics degrees

Graphic content: Five Towns College will debut two- and four-year Interactive Computer Graphics degree programs in Fall 2018, created by MindYolk CEO Paul Lipsky.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

On a mission to replace “starving artists” with “valued artists,” digital innovator Paul Lipsky has reprogrammed the book on Interactive Computer Graphics.

Like, literally: With the New York State Department of Education’s blessing, Dix Hills-based Five Towns College is introducing new two- and four-year Interactive Computer Graphics degree programs based on curricula written by Lipsky, an adjunct Hofstra University instructor and CEO of Plainview-based MindYolk Animation Studio.

The new degree programs were officially approved by the state in September after Five Towns College submitted course loads, syllabuses and other curriculum details this spring. The college plans to welcome the first students into its Interactive Computer Graphics degree programs in the Fall 2018 semester.

The curricula were prepared primarily by Lipsky, an old pal of Five Towns College President David Cohen, the college’s former dean of administration and academic affairs. The two had discussed a potential ICG degree program for years, Lipsky told Innovate LI, and when Cohen was named college president in early 2016, things got real.

“We actually started writing this more than a year ago,” Lipsky said Tuesday. “That’s when we started putting ideas to paper.”

To bring the plan to fruition, Lipsky partnered with Karyn Cernera Bush, a Five Towns College consultant and marketing communications director for The Knox School, a St. James day and boarding school for coeds in grades six through 12. The professional curriculum designer and “accreditation specialist” helped Lipsky “formulate the ideas into a format that was suitable for approval from the Department of Education,” he noted.

“She speaks their language,” Lipsky added. “I speak the language of the industry, but she really helped me specify it in the 500 pages of documents we submitted in June.”

The big idea, according to the authors, is to modernize the traditional art-degree education by blending in not only next-generation 3D modeling and other digital tools, but heaping helpings of business skills and a dash of workforce-development sauce – a recipe that will not only create better artists, but better prepare them for a 21st century economy that will champion their particular skillsets.

Students will still learn what Lipsky called “art college foundation skills that go all the way back to the 1930s.” Traditional art-school workloads have become “outdated,” according to Lipsky, but there’s “no need to toss the baby with the bathwater.”

“Everybody needs to know how to draw,” he noted. “Everyone needs to understand color theory and typography.”

But from there, the Interactive Computer Graphics curricula warp into the future – including deep dives into digital tools that might not spring immediately to mind when discussing computer graphics.

For instance: 3D animation, a focal point of sorts for what Lipsky sees as a “convergence” in the computer-graphics realm.

“I believe every creative person needs to have a good understanding of 3D animation,” he said. “There is a convergence happening between manufacturing and 3D, and I see it every day.”

As examples, he noted new opportunities coming to MindYolk, including recent freelance projects for which he’s 3D modeling an octopus-shaped wheelchair and a stand-up paddleboard for possible mass production.

“A couple of years ago, nobody would ever look for somebody like me to create something that could actually be fabricated,” Lipsky noted. “But now, with 3D printing and five-axis milling machines, 3D animation calls on all kinds of skills required to do this (prototyping) work.”

Paul Lipsky: Love story.

To ensure degree-holders will be prepared to thrive in that environment, the curricula also stress other “core skills,” according to their primary author, including computer programming and several non-art-related disciplines, such as personal branding – essential in what Lipsky sees as an increasingly “freelance world” – and crowdfunding, a primer on helping future makers gin up capital to back their big ideas.

Art is still at the program’s heart – “We’re not creating computer programming engineers,” Lipsky noted, “we’re creating artists who understand the world of coding” – but the ICG curricula were created specifically to help students “flourish in the next revolution of the Internet.”

“They will be able to come up with the ideas, model them and market them,” Lipsky said. “They will understand crowdsourcing applications and know how to raise funds.

“They will be very valuable people.”

Five Towns College’s two-year program will cover the core skill sets, giving those who earn the associate’s degree “the ability to go into the help-wanted ads and look for jobs that require those skills,” according to Lipsky.

The four-year program, he added, “is really where students define the paths they want to take,” through carefully constructed internships and mentorship programs and additional classwork that fine-tunes their skills based on their professional interests. Lipsky referenced an “industry-heavy advisory board” with contributions from The Food Network, the CBS broadcast network and various Long Island design firms, plus plans to reach out to Canon USA and “other Long Island manufacturers with a vested interest in seeing us create students capable of going to work for them.”

That’s the kind of economic-development-focused forward thinking state educators prize, and to that end, Lipsky tips his hat to two collaborators who worked with him on the degree programs. In addition to Bush, the primary author noted the contributions of Five Towns College Provost and Dean of Academic Affairs Carolann Miller, who is “really good at crossing those T’s and dotting those I’s.”

Now that the state BOE has approved their roughly 500-page plan and greenlighted the new degree programs, Lipsky is making a few professional changes. While he’ll still run MindYolk and teach at Hofstra, the graphic artist is about to be named chairman of Five Towns College’s Interactive Computer Graphics Department, and will likely be teaching some of the courses included in the new degree programs.

Preparing the curricula was a “labor of love,” he noted, and having the state approve them was an honor – but for Lipsky, the real joy begins when the new degree programs debut next fall.

“The real reason I’m doing this is I love teaching,” he said. “For people who love what they do, being able to share that passion with young people is like manna from heaven.”