Designing his Life
BA '17, Art
When Marcus Creel ('17) stepped onto Cal State East Bay, he knew he wanted to be a designer. During his first visit to the TV Studio, he met the Executive Director for Oakland Digital, fellow alumnus, Shaun Tai ('02). By being proactive, Creel soon established an unofficial mentorship with him. Creel credits his mentors for expanding his skill set and network. Creel is further advancing his career at his newly minted role as Graphic Design Specialist for Peralta Community College District. To move ahead in the industry, Creel has these words of advice–"Be true to yourself and be proactive."
Q&A with Marcus
Why did you decide to attend Cal State East Bay?
I chose Cal State East Bay as my university after weighing my values and priorities. Chico and Sacramento State were on the list, but they were both missing something, and the majors were more confined. One of my old mentors, who was the Puente Program Coordinator from Los Medanos College, mentioned a pilot program based on the same values as Puente. It was called Gaining Access 'N' Academic Success (GANAS). I was glad I chose East Bay, kin the end. If I were a part of GANAS, I would find my footing, find a place to belong, and experience a smoother transition from the Community College environment.
I didn't know Cal State East Bay was ranked one of the most diverse schools in the country. But knowing that, I felt I was in the right location. I yearned for experience, and that's something I felt would be lacking had I went elsewhere.
How has your education here at East Bay helped you with your activism and social justice efforts?
Most of what I've known in regards to social justice started at a young age. I grew up in a bicultural family. I have seen the world from two lenses -- Seeing the privileges and the drawbacks in both myself and others in my community. So I always knew what I wanted to do, at the end of the day, was to help others. My first job ever, I was a tutor for my high school football team and did a little of everything. I remember my teammate confessed that he had no idea that what I was explaining to him and what the teacher instructed him, were the same subject. He passed his English class with a B, and the rest is history. The spirit of helping better others had followed me from then on. By the time I was ready to graduate from Cal State East Bay, not only did I have the skills to become a designer, but I had the confidence to pass on what I learned and allow others to improve themselves.
They didn't teach activism in the classroom, but there were lessons all across the campus. In FALL 2016, when the country got a reality check, many students were being threatened with an enhanced risk of deportation. Already working on campus with the various learning communities within the Student Equity and Success Program, I knew the people who worked for the school deeply cared for their students. Soon after the election, President Morishita, and other leaders within the CSU system, were assembling committees to help provide resources for those who were labeled undocumented and prevent their deportation. I jumped on board and helped with some design work -- banners, posters, shirts, etc. I didn't know that the work was gaining traction. In May 2017, we kicked off the Undocumented Student Resources Summit - a day filled with workshops, legal help, and resources for those who needed help. After the event, we kept the resources online, so any student in need of support could virtually access our resources and safe people to reach out.
I have to recognize my former Instructor, Suzy Wear, who told our class how she and her creative colleagues went through the "dot-bomb," aftermath of the "dot com bubble" in the 90s. Designers at that time we're challenged to find work. So they all kept close connections with each other and shared resources and potential leads for work. I have mad respect for her, and moments like these keep me motivated to help others.
Tell us a little bit about your career journey and your new job.
My professional career really started with a chance. I was in the 2nd cohort of the GANAS program, being the only design student. I remember walking into the portables where the GANAS office was. My coordinator, Dr. Melissa Padilla-Cervantes, approached me and asked for help on a brochure for GANAS. I gave her a working prototype and went about my business. What happened after that was the magical part. I was told this second hand by Melissa, but the director who oversaw GANAS, Dr. Diana Balgas, found the brochure and asked who made that. Sure enough, they were both impressed, and I was offered a student-job building visual assets for GANAS as a Graphic Designer. The news spread to the other communities and directors from entirely different departments — each needing some kind of design work. Especially since the school was beginning its own rebrand for their new "Rising in the East" Campaign. By the time I graduated, I've worked with over a dozen individual learning communities and offices, including the Office of Diversity, and the Chicano Latino Staff and Faculty Association. I was truly blessed to be in the right place at the right time.
While the events on campus were ongoing, another series of events were set in motion before my senior year. Feb 2016, our professor, Suzy Wear, took us to the TV Station down by the Police Dept. There was a seminar called "What's next in Tech" held by a NonProfit called Oakland Digital. It was a panel discussion about the roles of women in the tech industry. At the end of the panel, the executive director, fellow alumn Shaun Tai, introduced their newest product called BRIDGEGOOD.com; it was an online portfolio website that was free to use and gave you the opportunity for paid gigs and network. Being optimistic, I made an Account on BRIDGEGOOD. I thought it was terrific for a director who founded a tech product and ran a nonprofit to have been in my shoes before. Professor Wear was the bridge for this connection since she was Shaun's mentor while he was at CSUEB.
I am going to fast forward a bit. After that initial meeting, I managed to create an account on BRIDGEGOOD, get involved, became an intern with them over the summer and returned to my senior year ready to tackle the world.
After Graduation, I hit a few low spots. I was still working for the school as an independent contractor, but the momentum I built in school slowed. I was always involved with Oakland Digital, and I even did freelance work with them. Almost a year past Graduation, I reached out to Oakland Digital and Shaun, offered me a three-month contract to help me get back on my feet and reestablish myself. The three months was extended to six months and then another 6 months and later a year. From February 2018 to this summer (2020), I worked as a Visual Designer for Oakland Digital (now called BRIDGEGOOD as they've rebranded officially). It was terrific because it played with my two passions; design and helping others.
I knew that my time with BRIDGEGOOD wasn't only a job, but an opportunity of a lifetime. Meeting all sorts of leaders from within the tech industry, handling projects with clients like Google.org and the Golden State Warriors. But like all great things, they shouldn't last forever.
February of this year, I saw an opening at the Peralta Community College District. I applied, literally a month before the coronavirus forced everyone to shutdown. It was not until April that I received an email for an interview. Before the meeting, I had 6 days to come up with a Campaign that focused on Virtual education, with only 5 minutes to present it. It was intense, but I thought to myself, "this is what I've been waiting for." Using all the strategies I picked up from school and the technique I learned from BRIDGEGOOD, I was able to deliver what was being asked of me.
As of July 6th, I am employed within the Marketing Department of the Peralta Community College District. I can't go into specifics, but I will help revitalize the brand for Peralta Community College District and the four colleges it represents.
You mentioned mentors a lot in this conversation. How important was having a mentor in your career journey or even being a mentor to others?
Having a mentor is a great way to gauge your performance. Since the bay area is ultra-competitive for design, since almost every school teaches some form of design, It helps knowing someone who has experienced more to help avoid any shortcomings. It's not only understanding the material teachers are teaching you but also how to be professional and streamline your work. Having a mentor to be the support and the reinforcement behind that definitely helps.
The best mentor partnerships happen organically. I never try to force something to happen, simply because I believe that anything forced into a reality, will not prosper. I'm not going to force somebody to have coffee with me to tap into what they are all about. If we happen to find each other at the coffee shop and shoot the breeze, then that is just fate. Mentors come and go in at different phases of life. My former boss Shaun Tai from BRIDGEGOOD, he's definitely a mentor. Suzy Wear is another mentor and Dr. Melissa Padilla - Cervantes, who's now the dean of diversity for Foothill College in Los Altos.
Personally, I love mentoring students. When I teach a new technique, I love seeing students light up when they learn something new. It makes you feel like you're a wizard; knowing what you do daily can mystify some people.
What is your fondest memory of CSUEB?
I remember my first year at CSUEB, I entered one of my art pieces into a student show at the Gallery. It was a mixed-media piece, using graphite, ink, coffee grounds, pastels, and charcoal. The art piece was called Martyr. The image was of a bull tethered to a sunken tree with banderilla darts along its back. The Bull was lunging forward, trying to escape its situation. For those that don't know, in Spain, Matador Bull Fights were a part of a three-act play, with the final act being the part where the Bull dies. The banderillas pinch the spine and hinder the Bull from moving as agile as it was in the first two acts. In my interpretation, the darts symbolize a crutch that we all carry. And that we must persevere no matter what life throws at us.
This art piece mimicked the style of Spanish painter Salvador Dali with his trademark for bleak landscapes. On launch night at the Gallery, My artwork created such a stir that I became a candidate for a CSUEB alumni scholarship that night. I will never forget that event, especially when it came to closing the Gallery, where I had no way of getting the large piece back home since I commuted via BART. Melissa offered to hang it in her office until the end of the school year. Since I lived so far from school, The GANAS office was a second home to me. If anything, I'll always remember that portable and always find someone to talk to when I visited.
If you can share one piece of advice with Pioneer students, what would that be?
Being true to yourself, as much of a cliche as that sounds. It really saves a lot of time, you save a lot of energy, and a lot of money if you really take an introspective look at yourself. What are you really passionate about? What are you being manipulated by? Who is putting a filter over your life to look at certain things? Herd Mentality can follow people out of high school. You need to step out of the herd and focus more on yourself once you do that, figuring out what your passion is for, will help you find a job that truly fits you. I suggest figuring all this out before Graduation, so you don't end up in the "what next" phase.