The thrill of receiving her first design patent early in her career is something Kelly Whalen, assistant professor, Visual Arts at County College of Morris (CCM), will never forget.
"I realized that what I was working on impacted the industry so much that it was worthy of patenting," she recalls. The new technology she created for John Deere – the zero-turn radius tractor – allowed the farm vehicles to turn on a dime. It was written up in Business Week and received an Industrial Design magazine Gold Award.
While many successful designers are born into creative families, Whalen did not inherit that advantage.
"I came from a family steeped in the medical and science fields," Whalen says. "But I was always involved in drawing, painting and sculpture.All of that was who I was and offered an important outlet and means of expression."
She earned a Bachelor in Fine Arts from Caldwell College while working as director of marketing and design for a restaurant product company. "That job allowed me to learn a lot about business and design."
When she attended Pratt Institute for her master’s degree, she began in interior design, but was quickly intrigued by an entirely different field – industrial design.
"Industrial design encompasses almost every area of design overall," she says. "It includes sculpting new products, graphic design, everything." After graduation, she worked for Henry Dreyfus Associates.Henry Dreyfus was one of the founding fathers of industrial design from the 1920s, who coined terms such as ergonomics.
Eventually, she started her own company, Envision Designs of Distinction, which is still thriving today.She also decided it was time to share what she had learned through teaching. She joined CCM as an adjunct professor in 2004 and was later brought on full-time.
Whalen says teaching is a mutual process. "With students, I feel that our educational dialogue creates a learning environment for all of us.I’m not always in the instructor seat.Young adults these days are so technologically savvy that they’re educating us."
She supports and coaches students in pursuing their own ideas. "One of the things I tell them is a philosophy that was instilled into my brain at Pratt," Whalen says."Be true to yourself and your work will be true to you."