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Mercer Alum Uses His Education to Pursue Successful Graphic Design Career


As a senior art director, recording artist, and music producer, alum Jim Smith ’01, ’03 (A.A.S. Computer Graphics, A.A.S. Advertising/Graphic Design) found his passion for a career in graphic design first as a student, and then as an employee at Mercer County Community College.

Growing up in Hamilton and graduating from Nottingham High School, Smith chose Mercer based on the recommendations of friends.  “I knew people who graduated from Mercer’s Graphic Design program and were able to find jobs and become successful in the field,” he said.

Smith first realized his passion for an artistic career while he was in high school playing in a band.  He designed his own flyers for his band’s shows, and realized graphic design would be a great way to take his artistic and creative side into the workplace.

He observes that given the current state of the economy, he is very grateful for choosing Mercer for his education.  “I was able to graduate with two degrees from Mercer and immediately go out into the working world without a lot of college debt,” he said.

Smith said Mercer gave him all the skills he needed for his career, including building up his portfolio.  “The professors at Mercer are really on top of their game.  They have a lot of real world experience to offer their students,” he said.

Mercer alum Jim Smith '01, '03 now works as a senior art director, recording artist, and music producer. He credits Mercer for getting him started on his successful career.

Smith recalled Mel Leipzig, an esteemed art professor at Mercer for more than 40 years, as his most inspirational teacher.  “I loved his passion for art and the way he talked about it,” said Smith, who took Art History with Professor Leipzig.

In addition to his classes, Smith found other ways to explore his creative side as a Mercer student, meeting other students who were musicians, artists and photographers, and hosting a radio show for WWFM, the college radio station.

"Jim is an enthusiastic and creative professional whose devotion to excel has always influenced others around him,” said Patrick Auletto, a current adjunct professor at MCCC who teaches Illustration, and a former classmate of Smith.

Jim Smith is pictured in his recording studio, the teal room that inspired his music project "TEEEL."

“He utilized his skills and training to become successful without spending additional money on an expensive four-year art school,” Auletto added.

After earning his associate degree in Computer Graphics in 2001, Smith applied for and was offered a job as a part-time graphic designer in the Publications Office at MCCC.

“I loved working at Mercer,” Smith said.  “It was an amazing first job with great hands-on experience.  It was a perfect stepping stone in my career.”

When Smith decided to pursue a second associate’s degree while working at the college, he recalls it as one of the busiest periods in his life.  “I was at Mercer from 7:30 a.m. until 11 at night.”  He also had a second job at a local restaurant.

The hard work paid off, as Smith earned his A.A.S. in Advertising/Graphic Design in 2003, and, after three years working at the college, in 2005 he went on to become a freelance art director at Dana Communications in Hopewell.  “It was my first experience working with photo shoots; it was really exciting,” said Smith, who designed and art directed booklets, brochures, and other print materials for hotels and restaurants.

Smith then went on to work as the art director at Princeton Partners Health, where he led the design and production of advertising campaigns for hospitals.  “I knew I eventually wanted to get into pharmaceutical advertising, so this was a big first step towards my goal,” Smith said.

In 2008, Smith was offered the job of senior art director at GSW Worldwide in Newtown, PA, an inVentiv health company and one of the largest pharmaceutical advertising agencies in the world.

“Every day is a new challenge where I learn something different,” said Smith.  “One day I’m working on an iPad app, and the next I’m working on a trade show booth for an event.”

Smith has also continued pursuing his passion for music by working as a mobile D.J. at clubs, weddings and school dances.  “I’m a one-man show,” he said, adding that he is also runs an electronic music record label, produces music under the name “TEEEL” and designs his own flyers and artwork to promote his businesses.  “It’s another creative outlet for me,” he said.

Smith said what he enjoys most about his career is that it doesn’t feel like work.  “It’s great to make a living doing something that you love.”

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