Skip to main content

Designing an Inclusive College Experience

Demarcus Williams does the Wolfie in the Free Expression Tunnel

When Demarcus Williams (’03) thought about the ways in which he could support NC State University’s College of Design following graduation, he thought back to his own experience.

When he enrolled, he was one of seven Black students in a class of 120 that year. He was the only Black student to graduate in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design.

The experience came with some challenges, but the college was there as an extended, supportive family for him.

“I would not be who I am and where I am today, if not for the culture fostered by the College of Design,” he said.

For Williams, giving back is about helping current and future students have the same experience or one that’s even better. He’s kept up with the college since graduation, returning as a guest speaker and for alumni events. Williams also currently serves on the board of directors for NC State’s Alumni Association.

He’s seen the college work to enroll and support students from all races, ethnicities and life experiences.

“Students feel supported, creativity is nurtured, and they’re all encouraged to be their authentic selves,” Williams said.

Some of that work is supported by the College of Design Diversity Initiative Fund, which Williams gives to annually. The fund furthers efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion within the college by supporting K-12 outreach, student programs, visiting lectures and student conference travel.

The Diversity Initiative Fund touches students before, during and after their time at NC State. It provides money to K-12 schools who might not otherwise be able to afford to bring students on field trips to the College of Design.

The idea, said Sharon Joines, associate dean of the College of Design and professor of Industrial Design, is to get students interested in and excited about a career in design early, and to help them understand what it takes to be ready to apply to the College of Design.

“It’s really critical that students are exposed to design disciplines early enough that they can get excited, that they can see it as a reasonable profession to get into, and so they can get their support system in place to encourage the idea of pursuing something in design,” she said.

Students applying to the College of Design must submit a portfolio, she points out. So if they don’t start thinking about a career in design until their senior year of high school, it’s already too late.

The Diversity Initiative Fund supports students once they arrive at NC State in a number of ways. Annually, it supports student travel to conferences, which can be essential learning experiences, opportunities to showcase work, and networking opportunities with peers and professionals.

While the fund does support standing annual initiatives, there’s also a pot for one-time use. For example, the fund can be used to help bring guest speakers to campus. It funded diversity, equity and inclusion books to be housed within the college, and supported the purchase of diverse mannequins for design projects. For alumni, the fund supports the college’s Black Alumni Weekend as well.

“The Diversity Initiative Fund is about trying to help build the pipeline and then supporting people once they get here,” Joines said.

The fund has existed for years, Joines said, but national and local events during the pandemic prompted a renewed interest in tackling diversity, equity and inclusion issues on campus and within the college.

“We had started to do some really focused work with a DEI task force during the pandemic, looking at what was going on, what students’ needs were, what the college’s needs were, and what our college’s goals were,” she said. “That shined a light on the Diversity Initiative Fund.”

The fund gained traction and backing while the college worked to build student awareness and to let them know they could submit applications to fund projects and initiatives. The Diversity Initiative Fund is supported financially by all stakeholders, Joines said.

“We have students and alumni giving to it, but also a tremendous number of staff are giving,” she said. “We’re seeing both internal and external focus.”

As one alumnus supporter of the fund, Williams encourages other alumni to think about joining him. Williams hopes alumni will think too about how their experience in the College of Design led them to where they are today.

He went on to work in print design following graduation, saying he had a passion for supporting small businesses, especially Black businesses. Williams followed that with a successful freelance career before taking a graphic design job at Saint Augustine’s University in Raleigh, where he’s since moved up the ranks.

“It’s been one of the most fulfilling jobs I’ve ever had,” he said. “Being able to present the university in a way that alumni and students can be proud of really energizes me.”

Williams went back to school to finish his MBA and today he’s associate vice president of Global Marketing and Communications for Saint Augustine’s.

Though his role has changed, it all ties back to his time in the College of Design.

“I’m no longer physically designing but I’m still creatively finding solutions,” he said. “Design thinking is still very much in practice in everything I do today.”

Supporting the Diversity Initiative Fund is about supporting others in finding their own success, he said.

“When you think about budgets, institutions and departments can only do so much,” he said. “That’s where alumni step in – we’re able to expand the pot and their capacity to execute the initiatives that they’re setting out to do.”