The Digital Arts Center Computer Lab is as busy as always on Wednesday morning, with media arts students and tutors crowding the computers. Liz Russotti has been walking these halls since 1999, but a lot has changed here since then.
While she’s retiring as the department chair of graphic design at the end of the 2016 spring semester, she will be leaving 17 years of teaching at City College behind her.
“It was about doing the right things, following my heart and I ended up teaching,” she said. “And I loved it.”
When Russotti was hired in the digital arts program, it was still dominated by traditional printing processes. Together, with the dean, she changed the face of the program.
“Graphic design literally creates the matrix by which an audience experiences information,” said Linda Lowell, chair of photography. “Liz has been a beacon for innovation and creativity. We will all miss her tremendously.”
Russotti has changed the graphic design curriculum. She greatly endorses the concept of online teaching, and is a full-time online teacher herself.
“Without that opportunity I wouldn’t be here today,” Russotti said.
Combining the fields of arts and teaching has been a developing experience for Russotti, something she considers being a major benefit with her job.
“The most significant thing I’ve learned is to listen, share and try to be understanding with your students,” she said. “You don’t really know a subject until you’re teaching it to someone else, and I’ve always learned something from my students.”
Suzanne Obando took Russotti’s Graphic Design 118, “Creative Thinking,” yet she experienced her as more of a tutor and an adviser than a teacher.
“She is a good teacher because she tells you the changes going on in the industry of graphic design and is honest about it,” Obando said. “She does not sugarcoat things. She is direct about what is going on and I frankly value directness.”
One of Russotti’s own favorite memories takes her back to her first year on campus and preparing for “Showcase,” the end-of-the-year student art show with Lowell.
“I remember the two of us spending long nights just printing out these huge banners of student work,” Russotti said. “That was just a fun time, setting up and helping get the event together.”
Lowell had just been hired at this time as well. Even though they were working under a lot of pressure, Lowell and Russotti both enjoyed this time.
“The experience bonded Liz’s design skills and my post-production printing skills in exciting ways,” Lowell said. “But primarily, it was the ‘girl power’ that carried this task to successful completion and we were proud to be part of this event, year after year.”
Russotti was born and raised in Rochester, NY where she studied and worked in fine arts. After taking a few classes in graphic design, she realized she wanted to become a teacher in the subject.
“I was a mother, so I was doing the same thing,” she said. “Helping children grow.”
She worked as a teacher in digital arts at several colleges after earning her master’s degree in printmaking. This became a way for her to keep doing what she loved while having a paying job.
“I tell my students that, ‘if you really love something and are serious about moving forward with it, you will find a way to get there,’” she said.
For the future, Russotti is looking forward to free time for experimenting with artwork, traveling and bonding with her grandkids. Although, she admits she will miss her time at City College.
“I will miss the energy from all my students,” she said. “I will miss my office, but of course, also my colleagues and faculty.”