Spring 2018

Third Floor Design @ 25

When TU graphic design students don professional dress, armed with portfolios, it must be pitch day for Third Floor Design, TU’s student-operated graphic design agency. Third Floor Design provides students with real-world experience creating promotional materials for nonprofit clientele. From the first pitch to the final presentation, students build their portfolio before graduation. This year marks the 25th anniversary of Third Floor Design.


M. Teresa Valero, director of the TU School of Art, Design and Art History, had trouble placing her students in corporate internships because they lacked experience. As a solution, Valero “created an in-house internship that would train the students prior to going to a corporate internship,” she said. From 108 Contemporary to the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma, students design a pro-bono project for a Tulsa nonprofit. “We take the student from the beginning concept to delivery of the project,” Valero explained.

An integral part of a well-rounded education is ensuring students are prepared for a career. Students have a budget, client meetings and high expectations. Former director of the TU School of Art, Steven Sumner said “We were approaching it from two different angles. This would be a great opportunity to have, and at the same time, raise the whole level of design in the Tulsa community.”

During the past quarter century, students not only became acquainted with the Tulsa philanthropic community, but, nonprofits came to know TU students and the high-quality of their work. The 140 students who have participated in Third Floor Design have contributed a total of 26,250 volunteer hours; 216 agencies have been served with the volunteer value of $530,513 and design value of $918,750. Often, students will be offered a full-time job right out of college because of their work with Third Floor Design.

Connie Cronley, former executive director of Iron Gate Tulsa, a food pantry and soup kitchen, worked with Third Floor Design for more than a decade. “Their design pieces helped raise more than a million dollars,” Cronley said.

TU students created the “Faces of Iron Gate” campaign, which was a series of photographs and written profiles of Iron Gate guests. “They aren’t just members to us. They are not just statistics. They are people whom we’ve come to know,” Cronley explained.

Madeline Crawford (BA ’12) was a leader on the Iron Gate project. She explained the power of the Faces of Iron Gate was “showing that everyone is the same. You can see yourself in the situation.” Crawford is the creative director at Langdon Publishing, and she credits her success to Third Floor Design. “Thinking about other schools who don’t have a Third Floor Design-type agency, I don’t know how they get jobs,” Crawford said.

For 25 years, Valero established and promoted the award-winning graphic design program. Third Floor Design is rooted in her insight and creativity. TU art students are more marketable and competitive, and when they walk into an interview, they are prepared to pitch themselves and their artwork. Once Sumner heard Valero’s concept for Third Floor Design, he said “I knew she was going to take us places that I couldn’t even imagine.”

Art as the voice of time

As a reflection of humanity, art disquiets the soul by stirring questions of relevance, connectedness and meaning. TU’s School of Art, Design and Art History grounds students in the academic foundation of art, while fostering an intimate and personalized environment for students to realize their artistic vision and ask those compelling questions.

Twenty-eight years ago, TU hired an artist and professor with a definite vision — M. Teresa Valero. Now serving as the director of the school of art, Valero emphasizes, “Through education, we are responsible for shaping students’ creative and professional lives and helping make them into responsible citizens of our society.”

Valero transformed a few course offerings in commercial art into an award-winning graphic design program, but her dream expanded beyond the campus boundaries. With Third Floor Design, a student-run design agency, Valero bridged the gap between the classroom and the Tulsa community. “We have countless alumni from full-time artists to those working in advertising firms,” Valero said. “I am happy to report that we have 100 percent employment for those who seek employment.”

Valero engrained in her students a moral duty to create art and visual communications that are true to their subject. “Is the artist aware of the ethical responsibility that makers of visual messages have in creating images that are compelling, yet do not stereotype individuals and ideas,” she questioned.

TU art students not only graduate with diverse professional portfolios but also a sense of the power of art. “Art is an agent of change,” Valero said. “Art becomes the voice of time.”