Unlike many college students, I came to Binghamton University knowing precisely that I wanted to pursue graphic design. But my relationship with the field of study wasn’t always consistent. My love for art since a young age paved the way and pointed me in the right direction, but doubt and uncertainty followed me for the first few years of the journey — something many other artists have also experienced.

At first, I did not have confidence in my abilities, and I took only a few graphic design classes in my freshman and sophomore years. I was anxious about making a living once I graduated. I wasn’t part of any clubs or organizations, so my days consisted of taking useless general education classes and design courses where I was not challenged enough. It was easy to keep a high GPA, but I felt unfulfilled with where I was in life. My passion for art and design seemed to have disappeared, and boredom took over. I felt that I had made a mistake I could not recover from. As I witnessed, things can take a turn very suddenly. Here are some of the lessons I learned.

Rule #1. Surround yourself with people who motivate you to be better.

In the fall semester of my junior year, I started a graphic design internship at Harpur Edge, where I was exposed to a group of hardworking students with seemingly endless involvements in organizations all over the campus. Being in a team with these successful and incredibly busy students, I realized that simply going to classes and getting A’s was not enough. When you spend time with outstanding peers, there is motivation to do more, even if your interests are very different.

Many students can attest that having a passionate professor that can make you like a subject you previously had no interest in. Taking a design history class taught by Lecturer Frank Chang, and a graphic design course taught by Assistant Professor Alessandro Segalini, refueled my passion for design. Frank and Alessandro were absolute professionals at what they did. They were cool, so much so that their enthusiasm for design was contagious. The way they talked about and analyzed artworks was fascinating. I started paying close attention to every billboard, poster and logo that I stumbled upon, analyzing the fonts used, color choice and composition. Design was once again at the forefront of my thoughts and my confidence was building.

Rule #2. Shoot your shot.

Even though I felt better about my abilities, self-doubt still lingered in my mind. Wanting to catch up to my peers at Harpur Edge, I decided to take on as many opportunities as I could. This is where Pipe Dream suddenly came to my attention, with an email from the art department advertising a design internship with the newspaper. The deadline for the application had passed, and I was utterly unprepared to present a portfolio. Fear of rejection was on my mind. Alas, I applied, and a semester-long internship turned into an Assistant Design Manager position. I was using my layout skills in a respected newspaper publication. Design was now my profession. Pipe Dream opened more doors for me than I could possibly imagine, surely a tipping point in my college career.

Rule #3. Use your connections.

Before graduating, the Design Manager in charge of my internship, Cory Bremer, made a recommendation for me to take over his position with the Rosefsky Gallery. As a result, my senior portfolio’s strongest pieces are the posters and trifolds I designed for the gallery’s visiting artist events. I made connections with interesting artists who helped critique my work and wrote me recommendations. With the help of Assistant Professor Gokhan Ersan’s and Segalini’s recommendations, and the help of a strong portfolio, I achieved the proudest moment of my years at BU, creating the logo and program design for the TEDxBinghamtonUniversity event, “UNEARTHED.”

Without the wonderful people in my life, I would not have any of these amazing experiences. Thank you, Wendy and the Harpur Edge team, Cory, Kade and the Pipe Dream staff, Hans and the Rosefsky Gallery, professors Alessandro, Frank, Gokhan and Ms. Davis, my friends Zeyad, Jann and my family: Mama, Papa, Alik and Saqo.

Mikayel Harutyunyan is a senior majoring in graphic design and assistant design manager.