How can a design education prepare students to thrive in a complex and rapidly changing world? Parsons’ first-year Foundation program immerses students in an exploration of art and design concepts, skills, and critical practices, training them to become flexible thinkers, strong makers, and life-long learners. The curriculum offers a survey of approaches to art and design that not only prepares students for the BFA programs at Parsons, but enables them to envision paths beyond the confines of a single discipline. (From the Parsons site, Foundation page)
All incoming freshmen at Parsons going into most majors first go through Foundation year. (Exceptions are the direct entry programs: Design and Management, Design and Technology, Environmental Studies, Photography, and Urban Design) This means that Foundation is a shared experience between all students at Parsons across disciplines and that this first year is an integral part of your university experience.
Structurally Foundation year consists of only a few different classes. Within the fall semester, your choose your times of class and professors but not the actual class subjects since everyone will take the same subjects. The spring semester there are some options within each category. Fall classes are Laboratory 1, 2D Integrated Studio 1, 3D Studio 1, Drawing Studio 1 plus Critical Reading and Writing and Perspectives in World Art and Design. Classes are 2 hours and 40 minutes or 5 hours and 40 minutes with breaks during class time.
There are a number of reasons why I chose a school that began with a foundation year as opposed to directly going into a chosen major. Foundation gives students a level start, equipping them equally in basic design sensibilities and technical skills. It also allows students to consider what major they want to go into before committing to it. Many incoming freshmen may think they know what they want to study and have their expectations completely changed after Foundation year.
Foundation is great also because students with different interests are all taking classes together. This first year allows for the establishment of friendships in majors other than what you’re interested in, so that in the next three years at Parsons, you continue to maintain relationships outside your major. My best friends now, while in my senior year, are the friends I made during my fall semester Foundation year.
Foundation year at Parsons is notoriously difficult, but I both appreciated the difficulty and enjoyed the challenge. When I first arrived it was intimidating because I was uncertain regarding the quality of my work in relation to my peers and I was worried about what kind of assignments I would have. Luckily, all the Foundation year professors are very friendly and really watch out for their students, so even though the work is challenging and takes a lot of time and effort, there’s a school community that’s supportive. Also, a Foundation student never feels alone! Foundation students bond over the year because of common assignments, professors and experiences. I personally never felt that the work I was doing was pointless. After high school, I was happy to be spending so much time doing art.
Assignments that I did during my Foundation year are probably slightly different from the assignments that are assigned now considering how my first year was four years ago. Still, I’m sure there are many similarities.
For my drawing class we did still life and figure drawings in different kinds of medium but mostly graphite and charcoal. The opportunity to have live models to help us practice figure drawing was great. We also went on field trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History to draw on site. We drew a room of the Met and any dinosaur skeleton of our choice at the AMNH.
In 2D Integrated Studio I learned the basics of Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. The instruction I received in computer software then was a great start for me before going into Communication Design. Besides digital work, we also painted many of our designs to help us improve in color theory and composition. My instructor would have us create work on the computer and replicate it by hand with paint or we would in other ways combine both digital and traditional work.
3D Studio was the most difficult Foundation class for me since I had never spent that much time with wood, wire and plaster before. It turned out to be a lot of fun learning about tactile materials and developing a sense of how to use them and create interesting sculptures and consider formal appearances of 3D objects.
It’s normal for incoming freshmen at Parsons to be anxious about Foundation year and be unsure of what it’ll be like. Feel free to ask me questions or comment below!