Setting the Bar in Student Publishing


Growing up, Meg Curtiss was surrounded by creative minds. “My parents were very connected to the arts. They encouraged my siblings and me to practice and study the arts,” she recalls.

Meg Curtiss reviews a Phoenix proof with a student.

Through the years, her appreciation for art has grown. She especially finds pleasure in creating her own pieces, ranging from painting and drawing to her favorite pastime, printmaking.

But art wasn’t always what Curtiss had in mind as a career path. When she first started her journey as a student at Valencia College, she set her sights on another love of hers: Science. A few semesters in though, she had to put her studies on hold and enter the workforce full time. “During that break, I held various positions in marketing, public relations and publishing,” she explains. “I often worked alongside graphic designers, and felt an easy connection to the process and technical side of design.”

Upon returning to the college, Curtiss followed her passion of the arts and earned an Associate in Science degree in Graphics Technology. She credits the program, now named Graphic and Interactive Design, for laying the foundation for her future.

But when the work in the industry began to feel more like an energy drain than fun and creative, she realized that maybe it wasn’t as glamorous as she imagined. However, a call from a connection at the college opened the door to an opportunity she never really considered before: Teaching. Curtiss gave it a shot and filled in as the instructor of Computer Animation halfway through a semester.

Professors Meg Curtiss and Jackie Zuromski look over past issues of Phoenix and discuss the magazine’s progress over the years.

Phoenix Ground Rules

She moved from adjunct professor to full-time faculty in 2008 and has taught a number of classes, including graphic design, web design and fundamentals of creative thinking. Her face lights up as she talks about her love of teaching and how exhilarating it is. “I have a lot of fun working with students. They walk into the classroom and they’re so excited—ready and willing to learn anything.”

Every semester brings about new experiences; new students and new classes. There’s one course though that gets Curtiss pumped every spring: Phoenix Design Project.

Phoenix is Valencia College’s art and literature student magazine. The annual magazine features art, poetry and prose from students’ class projects and their own personal pieces.

Work on the magazine starts every fall in Professor Jackie Zuromski’s Advanced Creative Writing/Literary Magazine course. In it, students’ review submissions, select pieces to appear in print and decide on a theme—the visual thread for the entire issue, and collaborate with design students as it moves from content to layout and production.

By spring, the magazine is ready for design and production in Curtiss’ Graphic Elective Course: Phoenix Design Project.

Phoenix has received the Associated Collegiate Press (ACP) Pacemaker award for three years in a row.

As students gather around a table, they begin “spit balling” ideas and scribbling thoughts on bulletin boards. Curtiss encourages them to throw everything out there—no matter how crazy it sounds—to see what sticks. “Look at every angle of the magazine; its layout, design, types of paper for printing, how it should be bound,” she prompts the class.

Over the following weeks, she walks students through developing concepts of layouts to designing their assigned sections of Phoenix. The class then works together on a mockup of the magazine and preps it for press.

The course doesn’t end there though. As the semester wraps up, Curtiss takes her students to the printing facility for a tour and to complete a press check. “They learn so much during the tour—it’s really moving to see their enthusiasm as they sign off on the final project and watch the magazine print in real time,” she says. “It’s one thing learning about the process in class, but experiencing it firsthand is a unique opportunity.”

Phoenix has received both local and national recognition, including the Associated Collegiate Press (ACP) Pacemaker award for three years in a row. It’s a great addition to students’ portfolios and gives them a competitive edge in the job market, Curtiss explains. “Knowing that our students are equipped with the skills needed to succeed and most importantly, believe in their work—that’s what makes this worth it.”