In most classes, detailed syllabi are handed out at the beginning of each semester, but in a small classroom in Reese Phifer, something different happens on the first day.
Students are asked to sketch out hundreds of concepts on small pieces of paper. Scribbled in pencil, these ideas are then put on a wall and judged for their merit. After editing and critiquing the drawings, an idea emerges. From that original idea, Minerva students are guided through an intensive process of creativity for the rest of their time studying creative advertising.
This small group of students make up the Minerva program. Minerva, named for the Roman goddess of wisdom and arts, is the name given to the cohort of students selected to join the creative specialization within advertising. Students are selected through a rigorous application process, attracting some of the most creative minds on campus. They care about the identity of Minerva and intentionally represent it in nearly every facet of their lives.
These creative minds influence campus conversations on how to think about social problems, campus issues and student relationships. Students in Minerva are expected to care about the process of design which includes a deep understanding of their environment. Just as their first-draft ideas are crafted into something bigger from the first day on, the students themselves feel a change within as they complete the program.
Britt Buzan, a recent graduate of Minerva from Jacksonville, Ala., knows this to be true. Moving from political science to Minerva, Buzan pushed himself in the program to become the artist he is today.
Last year, Buzan won a Gold ADDY in the full-page magazine ad category of the local American Advertising Student Awards. His ad, “Super Natural,” for BurgerFi highlighted the restaurant’s vegetarian burger options. The ad is a testament to Minerva’s commitment to teach students to dream big and think outside of the box. Every ADDY in the student division went to University of Alabama students.
“Minerva became my place, it was the perfect outlet for me,” said Buzan. “We want to creatively solve problems and we are challenged in this way. The process shapes us.”
Buzan and other students have found solidarity in the process, becoming mentors for one another during late nights in Reese Phifer 332. The hard work is worth it because they get a taste for agency life while completing their undergraduate degree. No matter the challenge, Minerva students face it together, head on.
Mary Buzbee (Birmingham, Ala.), a senior in Minerva, discussed the program’s desire to change the campus conversation about the creative focus and to introduce more collaboration.
“We want to dispense the information we have, and we want to widen the scope of Minerva on campus,” said Buzbee.
For each student in Minerva, widening the scope looks a little different. While on campus, they may work with students in other majors to create a project or provide feedback on design and creative initiatives. The program is working to become a student organization in addition to the creative portfolio specialization, which exemplifies their desire to reach more people with the creative influence.
After their time in Minerva, many graduates go on to work in an agency, pushing the limits in the creative world. Some go on to work as freelance graphic artists and others look for ways to engage with creative issues around the world on their own terms. No matter the arena, Minerva students tackle problems with the backing of a creative community.
Led by Mark Barry, a former creative director and part-time sculptor, Minerva seeks to go beyond the ordinary for student growth. As Barry put it, “early on, they realize the level of work and work ethic we expect in the program is really high.”
Minerva students’ creativity is highlighted and encouraged through relationships with their peer cohort, but also with their professors like Barry.
“[The faculty] are usually kind and positive, but sometimes they have to be brutally honest,” said Caleb Ledbetter (Columbia, Tenn.). “No matter what, I always know that they care most about helping me create my best work, so that I can land that agency job.”
Larissa Magera is a Minerva alumna and current designer at Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborne (BBDO) in New York City. She knows the Minerva mission and how it facilitates collaboration among students, first hand.
“Every week, we had to come up with ideas for our assigned products. During class, we’d critique everyone’s work and push our thinking to be smarter, bolder and more surprising,” said Magera. “It’s uncomfortable having your ideas in the hot seat, but the comradery that emerges eventually builds a more collaborative environment.”
Beyond the work load and creative expectations of the program, the cohort style fosters relationships among students. Eventually it is the students, not just the faculty, that keep the creative standards for the program alive.
“They hold each other accountable for the amount and level of work they do,” said Barry. “No one gets to slack off because everyone wants to succeed.”
In addition to their cohort’s cohesive mentality, the comradery plays right into Minerva’s culture. The group of students molds the program into what they want it to be.
“Everyone cares about creativity and ideas,” Ledbetter said. “We get along well, which is good because we spend hours together every week in group meetings, we eat together, and we go out together. As a group, we are free-spirited, progressive and positive.”
The students are excited to be a part of building the program. It is within programs like Minerva that leaders are created.
These leaders steward the arts and create pieces that offer creative solutions to communicate messages. As Buzbee said, their art opens the door to a broader conversation and invites collaboration in new ways on campus.
The Minerva community is dedicated to designing compelling, creative advertising, and for most students, the specialization is just the beginning.
No matter the next step for students, Minerva goes with them. At its core, Minerva is a tight-knit group of creative minds. These minds are part of an international creative movement.