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40 years ago: part of God’s plan March 3, 2020

Posted by deshon in Musings.
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photo of me and mascot YoUDeeIt was 40 years ago today that, as a wet-behind-the-ears graphic designer, I headed off to begin a new job, taking my place in a cubby-hole office at the south end of Evans Hall on the University of Delaware campus to work for a six-year-old interdisciplinary engineering unit called the Center for Composite Materials (CCM).

Fresh off a 20-month-long real-world experience in an advertising agency that eventually folded (I was the last employee to be laid off) and, thankfully, a short stint on the unemployment line, I was jumping into a new type of creative work just before turning 24. All this was due to a pressing need of R. Byron Pipes, then-director of CCM and an acquaintance of mine from the church I had been attending for just over a year, to fill an employee position of someone who had relocated to Boston.

Working with traditional artist tools of pen and ink, straight-edge and Bezier-curve plastics, and translucent vellum paper, I began creating technical and representative drawings for engineering staff and students.

I also got to continue creating marketing materials, something I had been doing during my first job with the ad agency and my design mentor, Harwood Ritter.

As the Center grew, the work involved in my position broadened. The mid-80s brought more responsibilities and demands, as corporate funding of my position waned and government defense contracts picked up the tab. There had also been a change in directorship, and I was now being supervised indirectly by my boss’s assistant.

At the same time, there was a seismic shift happening. The engineering group for whom I worked were early adopters of a new Apple product, a personal computer—the Macintosh. Beginning around 1985, I began about a three-year transition from daily heading home with inky black fingers to never having to use a pen or eraser again. Initially, I worked with MacPaint—a raster-based program. Then came MacDraw—more of a vector-based tool.

photo of me and my graphics crew at the timeI was, at one point, doing everything from conceptualizing drawings to darkroom photography (working with film and chemicals) to preparing and mounting diazo slides by hand (and being exposed to way too many nasty ammonia fumes).

There were new challenges for me as well, as I took on supervisory roles in addition to my regular work. At the peak of this position, I had been promoted a couple times and had a staff of three others with whom I worked and/or helped train—an able photographer and two artists.

Things continued to evolve, as my professional life continued to flow increasingly toward digital media. Within a few years, my staff had shrunk—my photographer had died and artists each headed out for new opportunities. I had learned some valuable lessons along the way, the most important of them being that I did not have the right acumen for supervising, nor did I really enjoy it.

Working solo, however, created pressures that I didn’t always deal with in healthy or prudent ways. I was forced to reckon with my own shortcomings and struggled to learn to work as a teammate rather than as captain and master of my own ship. Having been married for less than 10 years also added stressors of inexperience at the time. Looking back, discomfort with new and unfamiliar challenges or environments have always proven difficult for me.

My reputation increased with my adoption of and newly developed expertise with desktop design, which created a demand outside of my unit. This enabled me to service the College of Engineering as well with some fun-to-create marketing pieces, including a quarterly magazine, which ran for a few years.

During the 90s for a number of reasons, longtime CCM staff were, one by one, abandoning ship and finding greener pastures elsewhere. I had been promoted to Art Director, the ceiling position within my then-current career ladder. The digital revolution had also created efficiencies for everyone else that led directly to the shrinkage of my workload.

I was also being supervised by one who was actually in a lateral position, which confounded me, until I came to realize that I had probably been such a pain to have to supervise that it was thrust onto the editor with whom I most closely worked on communication-related projects. This individual, Diane Kukich, was responsible for my learning the nuances of a new craft—editing. Late in the decade, she also left CCM, which left me having to report equally to co-directors, which was a bit of an exercise in schizophrenia.

book cover, Who Moved My Cheese?I borrowed the book Who Moved My Cheese? from a colleague, and it really opened my eyes. Before then, I had not thought much about my professional future or why I was not enjoying working at CCM as much as I had in earlier years. I began thinking about change.

A new millennium brought with it a chance encounter in a gymnasium hallway with a friend in another unit on campus. At the time, my son, Jordan, was in first grade, and there were some home-schedule things that needed attention. Eric Jacobson stopped me in the hallway and asked me if I new of a “mini-Mark” who might be looking for a job. What he meant by “mini-Mark” was someone who did what I had been doing but on a part-time basis. I told him that I really didn’t know of anyone but that I might be interested in such a position.

One thing led to another, and before long I was pursuing a part-time position with the Institute for Public Administration (IPA), a training-and-service unit within a different college at the University of Delaware. This made sense for me and for our family at the time. I shifted into this new position in the fall of 2000, working about 28 hours a week and giving me the chance to be home when Jordan got off his school bus.

photo of UD cardProfessionally, this became a “new lease on life” for me. My new colleagues warmly welcomed me, and I began creating a variety of things for IPA, including a new website, something into which I had dipped my toes in the mid-90s while at CCM. Something about the mission of this unit—public service—made me feel very comfortable as well. In retrospect, my very personality has always enjoyed the intrinsic benefits of using my God-given gifts to serve others. Being part of a unit that was dedicated to teaching better government practice and community engagement therein appealed to me as well.

While I had always shown some interest in the written word from a structural point of view, the ten years that I spent on the job at CCM with Diane had increased my own interest in good writing. One of the facets of the IPA job that I had willingly taken on was as an editor. So, I found myself intimately involved with reports and documents, from cover design to editing the content for clarity, grammar, and punctuation.

I continued to learn by doing, gaining valuable experience in digital photoediting, which enhanced my design capabilities. During that time, I even started a statewide website-improvement group among local governments—the Municipal Web Developers Group.

Working closely with Julia O’Hanlon and Lisa Moreland, I spent a wonderful but fleeting 12+ years at IPA. IPA’s longtime director, Jerome Lewis, was my boss the entire time and a wonderful person for whom to work.

photo of Mark with his business logoJo Anne, my wife and the love of my life, had retired in 2011, after 36 dedicated and successful years of teaching in our local public schools. At this time, I began considering retiring from UD myself at some point. I was feeling that I had given all I had to give to the institution and felt that I was no longer able to keep up with the ever-more-quickly-changing tech world, which had direct bearing on my work. Plus, in my mid-50s, I was not as sharp as I had once been, which bothered me to some degree.

So, I retired from UD in November of 2012, during my son’s sophomore year there, and began concentrating more on other interests. Professionally, I’ve continued the business entity I had begun in 1989—Deshon & Associates Graphic Design. This business was always more of a hobby while I held my job at UD, but it became a continuing creative outlet as I’ve been slowly transitioning out of my professional life.

I even had a hand in “passing on the torch” to Sarah Marshall Pragg, who replaced me at IPA in the spring of 2013. It warms my heart to know that this young woman, who has shown capabilities and potential that I did not have, has flourished in the position I once held.

photo of the Deshons at Mark’s retirement receptionAll this said, on this day, March 3, 2020, I look back on my 33 years of working at UD with gratitude, humility, and a strong sense of having participated in God’s larger plan for my life, knowing that I could neither have imagined nor planned this path on my own.

Thanks be to God!

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