March 19, 2024 | Matt Kucinski

A group of students and their professor standing on stage after they won multiple awards.
On February 22, Calvin University students took home 25 of the 46 available ADDY Awards.

The 2024 American Advertising Award Federations West Michigan ADDY awards had a consistent undertone. “All you heard is ‘Calvin University with Professor Fox,’” said Grace Glass, a senior graphic design and marketing double major from Indianapolis, Indiana.

In total, students from Calvin University took home 25 of the 46 ADDY Awards given out. “Statistically, we took home more than half of the total student ADDY awards,” said Chris Fox, professor of graphic design at Calvin University.” In addition to receiving eight gold, eight silver, and nine bronze awards, Calvin students also took home two of the three Judges Choice awards, with sophomore Nadia Soler taking the Student Best of Show award.

Fox says this is impressive considering the judges are national ad agency principals or ad campaign developers.

Quite the first impression

“We spend most of our class time with Professor Fox, so getting another perspective on our work and having their opinion be so overwhelmingly positive really affirmed what we felt ourselves,” said Trevor McDaniel, a senior studying graphic design and marketing. “And these could be potential employees down the road. It’s a good way to make a first impression.”

“Our students have industry professionals who don’t know them at all saying their work is valid,” said Fox. “This is astute validation that our students are competitive, that’s an ongoing question with any program, will I be competitive when I leave?”

The outcome of the ADDY awards seems to answer that question for Calvin graphic design students. And over the past five years, Fox has been working to build up a program that prepares students for just such success.

Giving students a competitive advantage

“This is very validating, because it’s been five years of building a program from sort of scratch, developing new classes, rewriting the curriculum for all the classes, and setting expectations for what students should expect professionally when they finish school,” said Fox.

Before coming to Calvin in 2019, Fox spent time teaching graphic design at Kendall College of Art and Design, Western Michigan University, Grand Valley State University, and Michigan State University. His current students say his past experience is helping them gain a unique advantage over their peers.

“In building the program at Calvin, he knows all the gaps in the other students’ portfolios, and he is picking projects that fill in those gaps that other students have at other places,” said McDaniel. “The variety of projects that we do is one of the strengths of the program.”

Preparing to be a professional

Another strength is in how Fox treats his students.

“Fox treats you like a professional already, not as a student,” said Glass, whose work was awarded two Gold and one silver ADDY. “He’s going to give you his honest opinion, not going to sugarcoat it. If you are doing something that’s not a good design choice, you will know it and he’ll give you the reason why. And he really works with you on each of your projects to develop it in a professional way.”


“I think Professor Fox brings a unique perspective on graphic design, he gives good feedback, and he doesn’t hold back on anything,” said McDaniel, who won both a Gold and Silver ADDY. “But when you put in the effort and energy, he makes you feel secure in your skills.”

“Honest feedback is what I’m learning from and it’s the best way to learn,” added Glass.

Sharpening and supporting one another

And it’s not just honest feedback from Fox, he’s also encouraging the students to learn how to give honest feedback to one another, something he sees as invaluable from his undergraduate student days.

“The best network I have is the one I made during my undergraduate years. I want them to value each other in that same way, the quicker we can be honest, the better the experience. To be able to be brutal, honest, supportive, and loving at the same time, makes that critique process useful.”

Students are seeing the depth of the community being formed because of just that.

“By our sophomore and junior years [in the program], everyone meshed well, and class time didn’t feel like class, it felt more like you were hanging out with your friends,” said McDaniel.

Ready to launch

Now, students like Glass and McDaniel have built up the confidence and skill set and are ready to pursue their dreams post-graduation.

“My dream job is to work in a studio of graphic designers with multiple companies and brands,” said Glass. “I love being able to express the creativity that I do have with branding as one of my favorite types of design. You see branding for everything everywhere, whether on a cereal box or sign out on 28th Street. My brain, when I see that stuff, starts thinking how I can improve on that design-wise, I have so many thoughts, creativity running through. I’m not sure what I would do if graphic design wasn’t a thing.”

“I’m hoping to go into a studio that handles a lot of different clients. I like to have my fingers in a lot of different pots and work on different projects all working at different rates,” said McDaniel. “Variety is one of my best friends … I like visual problem-solving and being creative and artistic and that leans itself into graphic design and how specifically can a brand present itself in a way that’s unique and delivers a message that it wants the customers to receive.”

Glass and McDaniel will graduate on May 4, 2024, and while they are excited about the road ahead for their lives, they are also imagining a bright future for the program they’re leaving.

“If graphic design can get to where it is in such a short time,” said Glass, “I’m curious and excited to see where it goes in the next four years.”

Award Winners

The following students won one or more Gold or Silver ADDY Awards or a Bronze Honorable Mention in 2024:

Jenna Brooks

Nathan Disher

Matt Erickson

Hannah Gaffner

Grace Glass

Emily Griffin

Morrison Ismond

Lucy Iverson

Noah Lammers

Stellina Lim

Trevor McDaniel

Brynna Morren

Amanda Ormstad

Horacio Portillo Diaz

Nadia Soler

Check out the award-winning work on the 100 level of Spoelhof University Center in the Art and Design department.

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