Our GDUSA Educators To Watch series shines the spotlight on teachers and administrators who are making a difference to their art and design students, schools and communities, and their own disciplines.
Genaro Solis Rivero | Baylor University
Genaro Solis Rivero is an award-winning graphic designer and educator specializing in branding. He joined the Baylor University Art faculty in 2023, following five successful years of teaching Communication Design at Texas State University. Alongside his teaching responsibilities, Genaro also contributes his expertise as a leadership team member at Legacy79, a reputable branding agency in San Antonio TX.
Driven by a passion for human-centered design, Genaro brings over 20 years of experience in branding, corporate marketing, and editorial design across diverse industries. In addition, he strongly believes in the importance of giving back to the community. He has actively supported several cause-based organizations through his graphic design skills. As a result, Genaro’s communication design has gathered recognition from national and international organizations and publications.
Genaro concisely describes his approach to design education with the phrase: “Teaching what I love and loving what I teach.” This philosophy underpins his dedication to inspiring and empowering students in the graphic design field. As a result, Genaro’s students have achieved significant recognition from prestigious design organizations and publications.
GDUSA. How and why did you decide to make education a meaningful part of your career?
In late 2017, the Communication Design program at Texas State University was searching for a practitioner designer to teach Trademark Design and Branding Systems. Although teaching was not on my bucket list, God had other plans. I knew the program and faculty well, earning my BFA and MFA in Communication Design degrees from Texas State University. In the Fall of 2018, I began my teaching career with a stomachache and sweating hands. However, after teaching Trademark Design and Branding Systems, I fell in love with teaching graphic design in higher education.
GDUSA: How do you balance the need to teach art and design fundamentals with the need to keep up with ever-changing trends and technologies?
My approach to design and, consequently, to teaching graphic design has always been to focus on conceptual solutions, applying conceptual strategies, sound, and strong messaging that communicates a cohesive, unique, and powerful story. Trends and technologies always come and go, but strong concepts are memorable and easier to remember. Critical thinking is something I incorporate in all my courses. I am not worried about software, trends, or emerging technologies. I always tell my students that technology is just another tool and that trends are always ephemeral. But, on the contrary, solid concepts, strategy, and storytelling should be the focus of their graphic design work. In my book, the concept is king, and I try to live by it.
GDUSA: Do you believe that the students you are teaching in 2023 are different from students of the past — for example, in attitude, interests, commitment, hard skills, and soft skills?
Absolutely, these changes are generational. They have different ideologies, needs, and obviously, their times are other. However, I have always witnessed a positive change in the student’s attitude, interests, and commitment with the right amount of empathy and passion. Every student wants to learn, but it is up to educators to transmit their passion and love for their discipline, ideology, and teaching methodologies. A great mentor once told me, “What you wish to ignite in others [your students] must first burn within yourself. The students will pick up on these things quickly, and then it spreads like wildfire.” I witnessed his passion as a student and later as a colleague. Now, I have experienced it with my students. The fact that the students show up for class speaks volumes about their motivation to learn; it is up to us, as educators, to spark the same passion and interest we hold for our discipline. Essentially, it is more impactful to spark their curiosity for the discipline than to focus on skills. Skills can be learned and improved, but passion cannot be taught. Thus, skills without passion are not enough to succeed in our industry or any profession.
GDUSA: Are hiring and career matters — for example, interviewing, resume building, contest entries, portfolio preparation — part of the program? Should they be?
Hiring and career matters are part of the program. The BFA Studio with a Graphic Design concentration curriculum at Baylor University offers a specifically designed course for internship opportunities. Additionally, all graduating seniors must take a capstone course emphasizing the importance of resume building and portfolio preparation. Additionally, I strongly advocate for design competitions; they validate the students’ work, build their confidence, and develop pride and camaraderie among the students. Nobody can deny it: Winning competitions feel great. Furthermore, I believe interviewing, resume building, contest entries, and portfolio preparation should all be part of any design program—two semesters would be ideal.
GDUSA: Are ethical issues — for example, encouraging students to think about designing for good or for social justice — part of the curriculum. Should they be?
I have seen several design programs incorporating design for good or design for social justice as an essential part of their curriculum. Although the purpose of integrating it into a curriculum may be well-intentioned, the choice to make a vital contribution solely relies on the graphic designer. Choosing what to do with their talent, by their own free will, has more value than being forced into their design education. On the other hand, it is essential to talk about the power and the responsibility a communication designer has with their work. Milton Glaser once mentioned in an interview that by moving people or changing behavior, a designer can raise consciousness or develop a sense of empathy with others who share a common experience; as a graphic designer, that translates into much responsibility and, ultimately, a personal choice.
GDUSA: One criticism we hear from employers is that students come out of school knowing web design and digital media but NOT print or package design or other ‘traditional’ media. Your reaction?
Some curriculums may lean towards newer technology and others towards traditional media. As in everything in life, a good balance is better. However, teaching design students critical thinking and conceptual strategies is more important than focusing on digital or traditional media. Regardless of the media, if students do not have a strong concept, their work will suffer; it becomes trendy and maybe pretty but not memorable. And in our industry and lives, we do not have that luxury; good design must be memorable. Our industry is living in phenomenal moments, witnessing a colossal disruptor with AI and new technologies being developed. I am excited about seeing all this. More than ever, I sustain that, as educators, we need to teach the next generation of graphic designers to think conceptually. As I mentioned earlier, in my book, the concept is king.
Teaching what I love and loving what I teach.