Dear Margaret,

I both graduated from, and taught in, the certificate program at RISD/CE, so I can offer my opinion on that program.

The three years you mention are not consecutive full-time years. One may take a single course a semester and spread the program out over time; it is designed for working adults who may not be able to commit to a full-time curriculum. If you'd like to be full-time, you can take as many classes per semester as offered and finish the certificate requirements in less time. The program requires six core classes, then a number of second level courses and electives. https://ce.risd.edu/adult-certificate-programs/natural-science-illustration/natural-science-illustration-course-descriptions/.

No portfolio is required for admission to the program, but an exiting portfolio is required to earn the certificate (ie, a student must fulfill all requirements to a level deemed acceptable).

All instructors, in my experience, were excellent. Professional, high standards, knowledgeable, and approachable. The school itself has many resources, including the Edna Lawrence Nature Lab, computer labs, studios, etc., and access to much else at RISD, Brown, the Natural History Museum, Greenhouses, plus other area resources. I loved teaching some classes at RISD's satellite campus on the beach, and utilizing Brown University's anatomy lab. Another advantage is you have access to other certificate programs that may mesh with your goals (Animation, Graphic Design, Interactive Design) as well as other continuing ed classes, like the Business of Art.

I would take a look at all the schools you're interested in, look at their course offerings, requirements, instructors, costs, and then also look at what the location has to offer. Do you want to be on the east or west coast? What other advantages are in driving distance? I believe all locations you mentioned have chapters of the GNSI-a big plus!

If you choose a school requiring proficiency in the basics, you can work on your portfolio yourself, or take any number of local or on-line classes. The program I run (see below) is based on what I learned at RISD/CE and focuses on developing strong, primarily traditional, skills and techniques. As Britt mentioned, if you share your current portfolio, many on this listserv can offer direction.

Best wishes on your decisions, and on this next chapter in your life. 

Sincerely,
Gretchen Halpert

Gretchen Halpert
Illustrator/educator
Scientific Illustration Distance Program


On Tue, Jan 21, 2020 at 9:56 AM Margaret Oliver <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Good morning everyone,

I've been wanting to attend a certificate program for natural science illustration for a long time and finally feel in a position to start going forward with it (very exciting). I'm hoping to hear people's thoughts on these three programs in particular:
CSU Monterey Bay, UW, and RISD.

Although I have a couple science degrees I've had a decent amount of formal art training over the years and I feel like Monterey Bay and UW are both more geared towards people who already have most of the necessary art skills, since they require portfolios), whereas RISD is open enrollment and requires some core coursework to start off (not necessarily a bad idea to get some refreshers while also learning new skills and techniques). RISD's program is also by far the longest at ~3 years (CSU is ~10 months + internship, UW is 8 months) but interested students can get started whenever they want to (a major plus in my book). Unfortunately, UW is on hiatus until October 2021 for restructuring and since I know Monterey Bay is pretty competitive  I would plan on spending the next year preparing my portfolio and getting the required letters of recommendation.

I know I've seen a few things in GNSI's journal over the years on Monterey Bay's program and I get the sense that it and UW might both prepare their students for entering the field a little better. But RISD has such a good reputation as a whole!

Does anyone have strong opinions or thoughts about any of these programs?
Thanks very much for any advice you're willing to offer!

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