In 1999, Excelsia College was the only Christian college in Australia offering graphic design degree courses. Erica Brooks was looking for a learning environment that offered her the ability to earn real world qualifications whilst studying graphic design in a faith-based environment. Enter Excelsia College which ticked all the boxes! For Erica, she got to immerse herself fully in the College experience as she studied on site at Excelsia College’s old Drummoyne campus and lived in student housing in Leichhardt. ‘I have a tonne of fond memories! One of my favourite aspects was just how interdisciplinary we all were. All the departments mixed, we all knew each other, and there were so many opportunities to explore, express and develop different aspects of our creativity without feeling limited to one discipline. It was an enormously creative, collaborative environment’, explains Erica. Erica uses the words ‘earnest, revolutionary and exceptional’ to describe her experience at Excelsia. ‘The College was earnest in that it was founded on deep, authentic belief. This belief wasn’t just founded in God, but in the idea that creative individuals had a valuable place in Christian ministry – and this permeated college culture.’ Excelsia College’s founders David and Marianna Johnston helped to shape this special culture and still hold a special place in Erica’s heart. ‘This couple had ambitious vision, charismatic leadership, passion, and tenacity. The fact Excelsia exists in Australia is due to the pioneering work they did in this field, creating a place for Christian liberal arts education in Australia where there was no previous tradition or history in the country. What they achieved was so impressive, and the learning environment they built was unique.’
Excelsia College offered built-in theological components to their art degrees which included a year of Old Testament Survey, a year of New Testament Survey, and a year of Biblical Exegesis. ‘There were historical photos on the walls that charted the journey of Excelsia from its inception to the iteration I experienced. It evolved and developed over the years, and it was cool being part of that history’, says Erica. As a relatively small Christian liberal arts college, Erica believes the College was exceptional in terms of the quality of teaching staff and calibre of the courses. ‘The lecturers and educators in the arts and design faculty were practitioners with their own successful careers and many also taught at Sydney’s most prestigious design schools.’ Erica continues, ‘Our design training was robust and practical enough for me and many of my classmates to confidently transition into contract work in our final year, which was a great start to professional working life.’ Erica found the human-centred, design thinking approach they were taught in class was applicable in multiple fields and industries, not just graphic design. ‘As part of my design history and theory training, I was introduced to critical thinking for the first time, and it revolutionised how I interacted and engaged with the world.’ During her time at Excelsia, Erica also experienced two big philosophical shifts, including learning to compete with herself instead of with others and embracing play and failure. ‘Coming from the standardised schooling system, I’d been raised to seek and compete for high marks. As I entered my third year of College, I made a conscious decision to leave that practice behind in favour of focusing on doing work I could genuinely say I was proud of – that became the goal. To my immense surprise, high marks were a byproduct. It continues to be a liberatory approach’, reflects Erica.
Since finishing her studies in 2001, Erica has gone on to have a career that has taken her all over the world, working in design, marketing, startups, event production, film and media production, media analysis, research, communications, and executive management. She now works for a government innovation agency in Aotearoa, New Zealand as an employee experience designer. ‘I utilise participatory design to build a community driven organisational culture focused around wellbeing, diversity, equity and inclusion’, explains Erica. Whilst Erica’s life has led her outside the Christian faith, she remains grateful for her college education experience. ‘I hope every Excelsia student has educational experiences as formative and rich as my own.’ Excelsia College is proud to foster creativity in its students and is proud of the journeys our graphic design alumni have gone on. If you want to join a life-transforming institution, then Excelsia College is the place for you. Check out our course offerings on our website https://excelsia.edu.au/