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Mugging it: Student designs WNMU-TV promotional item

These are examples of the cups that were designed by a Northern Michigan University student that are being used in a WNMU-TV13 promotion. (Courtesy photo)

MARQUETTE — Northern Michigan University senior ceramics major Niikah Hatfield has designed and produced special-edition WNMU-TV mugs for the station to give as promotional gifts during its fundraising campaign that begins this week.

This is the first time a student’s design has been featured for this purpose, and likely won’t be the last through future collaborations with Art & Design.

“Working with the team at WNMU-TV gave me the chance to create in a professional environment, and it was encouraging to come up with a design that reflected what they were looking for,” Hatfield said. “I was commissioned individually to do the project, and it was a great learning experience as a student in my field.”

Hatfield created a limited supply of 25 unique mugs, each with its own character, to incentivize donations of $120 or more to support WNMU-TV programming.

The idea to collaborate with the Art and Design department came about during a WNMU-TV brainstorming session, when student receptionist and art student Rachel Fromwiller suggested they have the NMU ceramics department make mugs as a promotional item.

“We jumped at the idea,” said Bob Thomson, TV broadcast and production manager. “President (Fritz) Erickson encourages collaboration on campus and we thought this would be a perfect match. We met with associate professor Brian Kakas and he quickly brought in Niikah. She really helped guide us through the process. She came up with some prototypes and we all finally agreed on the one we have now. They were great to work with.”

These types of partnerships give different departments and programs the opportunity to meet others on campus and learn about what each does. Thomson said the station personnel learned about ceramics and the process of how clay becomes a beautiful piece of art.

“Niikah has developed an understanding within the full breadth of the ceramic spectrum offered at Northern,” Kakas said. “Additionally, she has strong personal connections to functional pottery and design, sustainability of practices, and community building.

“Niikah not only has the skills and passion for the materials but the ability to work with the great team over at the station. She was able to listen to their ideas, assist in a collaborative development of color, line, surface and form into a tangible product that celebrates the individuals and experience.”

Kakas said the entire process, known as “cradle to grave,” took about three months to complete. Steps included design time and prototyping, prepping materials, fabrication, glazing, firing and packaging.

“This is an ideal opportunity for students to take acquired physical skill sets, design theory and concepts, and apply them directly to a business practice,” Kakas said. “Anytime you can provide application of studied skills and knowledge to real-world practices and industries, it creates tangible realities for a student’s future.”

The hope is that the collaboration will continue in as many different formats and groups as possible.

“Seeing the university tap into our best resource, Northern students, is exciting,” Kakas said. “Projects like this expand our community from across campus to across the city and allows for long-lasting personal connections to be made.”

While monetary donations support public television in the Upper Peninsula, Thomson said they also indirectly support NMU students, like those majoring in broadcasting or ceramics.

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