Mine The Gap (8 Tips for Designing a Custom Gap Year)

By Professor Sean Nixon

Tip #1- Dream Big 

After a gap year,  you will have a story to tell for the rest of your life! A story that you get to write. There will be certain realities of our current situation (recovering from a worldwide pandemic), but instead of thinking of them as limitations, think of them as opportunities. For instance, your gap might be about making a difference. You may want to be a part of the political changes and movements that are organic to the times we are living in right NOW. 

Yes, you will need to take a realistic look at your time and resources, but you can still dare yourself to find out what really makes you tick and set a chart for discovery. 

Tip #2- Plan It Out 

It may be tempting to start exploring new challenges immediately after high school graduation. You might see yourself running around the country checking off items from your bucket list, but a gap year will be much better served if you grab a calendar and come up with a master plan.     

Writing out a timeline with your most important milestones gives you context that reveals the action steps you’ll need to take in order to succeed. 

Being inspired and dreaming up a big custom plan isn’t the hard part. The hard part is sustaining the energy to make it through the challenges that are always inevitable on any journey. 

Don’t forget to make sure that your plan includes goals that are personal growth-oriented. Elegance and magic include your inner growth as well as learning external skills and experiences. 


Sean Nixon: Welcome to the Real World

I was recently interviewed on Radio Kingston/ WKNY  1490 AM & 107.9 FM. It was a blast taking me from my past right to the present. Topics include: How I got to teaching. How I developed The Real World Classroom and addressing the current state of College’s relevance.

Show: No One Like You

: Julie Novak

Air Date
: Monday, November 11

: Professor Sean Nixon joins us to discuss his applied and real-world and applied learning program that helps bring students outside the classroom and into the field for a hands-on learning experience. Plus, Queerstory Lessons featuring Willow Smith and music by The Darkness, Elton John, Shamsi Ruhe, Spirit Family Reunion, Ella Fitzgerald and more.


Successful Design Student in the News

A lot of people come to Professor Sean Nixon (who is head of the graphic design program) for help with projects, and through him I got internships and freelance work all the time.

Bluestone Press


Local money, local ideas 

Love what you do: Sharon Wasko Graphic Design opens in Rosendale

Chelsea Miller – BSP Reporter 

Graphic designers are the unsung storytellers of small businesses. With the power to distill what makes a business unique and make sure they get noticed and stay noticed in the crowded marketplace, it’s safe to say that graphic designers are the secret weapon for anyone look-ing to make a mark. Although you may not know Sharon Wasko personally, there’s a good chance if you live locally that you know her work. The Rosendale-based graphic designer’s work can be spotted dotting the streets of busi-nesses and organizations from Stone Ridge to Rosendale and beyond (including the “streets” of the World Wide Web).

Back in 2000, Wasko earned her BFA, with a concentration in painting and a minor in women’s and gender studies, from Trenton State College, and while she did take one graphic design class her freshman year, which gave her the computer basics, she laughingly admits that, at the time, “I was not interested in such pedestrian ideas as ’employability’ or ‘useful skills.”‘

After graduation, Wasko would go on to found a successful dog-walking and pet-sitting business in Philadelphia. As fate would have it, one of her clients happened to be a man who is now her husband, Mike Erwin. After 10 years in Philadelphia, the couple began to look for a place to raise their kids.

“We visited Rosendale when we were checking out the area, scoping potential areas to move to,” says Wasko. “We liked the area because of its natural beauty and ideal distance from family in New Jersey, Vermont, New York City and Connecticut. We were arguing over how rural we wanted to live, and then we found the perfect house within walking distance of Main Street, and it was the perfect mix of rural and small town”

Wasko and her family moved into their home in 2013, and Wasko, knowing she didn’t want to start a new pet-sitting business for various reasons, focused on raising her two daughters and picking up retail work while she figured out what was next. She knew she wanted visually creative work, but Wasko wasn’t yet sure what shape that work would take. One of the perks of small-town living is that, unlike in large metropolises, you actually know your neighbors.

“I ran into Sean Nixon, who is my neighbor and teaches graphic design at SUNY Ulster,- one day at one of my retail jobs, and he told me a bit about his program,” explains Wasko. “I was intrigued. It took a couple years, but eventually I signed up for his class. I hadn’t been in a class-room in almost 20 years at that point, and I was super nervous, but I got comfortable pretty quickly!’ 

Returning to school as an adult – and a parent – was made easier due to the great leadership at SUNY Ulster, says Wasko. “SUNY Ulster really goes out of its way to make the experience of returning to school work for everyone,” she says. “They have classes at all different times, in both Stone Ridge and at their Kingston center. They have a childcare center, which was very helpful for the first semester, when my class was at a weird time that didn’t work with my kids’ usual daycare schedule. The teachers are also accommodating to parents. There were several times I attended class via Google Hangouts because I had a sick kid at home! 

“I also just really loved the Graphic Design program in particular, because of its ‘Real World Classroom’ model,” Wasko says. “I got to work with real clients, with real needs, starting when I was only in my second semester of school. We had several organizations come in to get our design help, including the Jewish Federation of Ulster County, who chose to use the brochure I designed for them. A lot of people come to Professor Sean Nixon (who is head of the graphic design program) for help with projects, and through him I got internships and freelance work all the time. Real world experience and  real world connections were exactly what I needed from the program, and that’s exactly what I got. It was worth every penny.” 

Wasko founded her company, Sharon Wasko Graphic Design, in spring of 2018. Wasko has a passion for color (“I’m obsessed with teal, aqua and turquoise!”) and big, bold pattern. She has a long-term affection for abstract expressionism (with an abiding love of the painter Joan Mitchell), kitschy 1950s design and old floral fabrics. However, one look at her portfolio and it’s clear that when it comes to clients she processes a vast diversity of aesthetic capabilities. Wasko is adept in print design, websites, logos and branding, photography and video. Dipping into her website you’ll find thoughtfully designed brochures, like the one for the Jewish Federation of Ulster County (aimed at attracting new members) balanced with playful and progressive logos, like the one created for Quay Bakes. The striking simplicity of the logo for Blue Marble Arts is balanced with the busier aesthetic of A Potter on Main. “The most satisfying thing, that I hadn’t really thought about before,” says Wasko, “is getting to learn about all these fun projects, often just when they’re starting up. A lot of my clients are artists, like A Potter on Main Street or Blue Marble Arts, or musicians like Sheila Dee, so it’s a lot of fun stuff. I like that, on top of getting to do a thing I love, I get to help people make and promote the things that they love!” 

Wasko is looking to grow more of what’s working now. “I honestly really love what I’m doing right now, and I’d love for it to just keep growing)/ says Wasko. “I’ve thought about getting a job at a local company and being an in-house designer, but then you have to work within their parameters and work with one brand all the time. That might be perfect for me one day, but right now I love the variety of clients I’ve had, and having new and different projects all the time is really fun. If I could keep getting more of these interesting projects until it’s enough for full-time and a sustainable income (where maybe I can also afford health care!), that would be the dream. (Maybe I could have an office that is not in my dining room, too.)” 

For more information visit or drop Sharon a line at:


Collaborating in the Global Classroom

Meet COIL – Collaborative Online International Learning

COIL is a program developed by media instructor John Ruben. John got two groups together: American students and students in Belarus and Lithuania. Together they produced amazing videos and John thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to do more of these kinds of collaborations?”
Inspired by his work, I have led several COIL programs. One was a collaboration with design professor Roberto De Uslar and his students at La Salle University in Mexico City, Mexico.

Logistics Of Working Together

The technology we used was simply the ubiquitous Facebook and Skype. Known all around the world, Facebook is actually used even more outside of the United States.
We built the entire course in Facebook, so the syllabus, the course notes, resource information, photographs were in Facebook, in files and photos.

Then we had students post their entries and each professor would comment on the other professor’s students’ work.

We as the Professors would write critiques and students would then submit audio and images in response.

Additionally, we would meet online via Skype. So we and the students could actually look at each other.

The night before a Skype video meeting, the two professors would review the work and make comments to each other and decide what we were going to say the next day. Then we would meet the students and talk about what we thought about their work.

NY Collaborates with Mexico City

Once we had these tools in place, both Professors had 10 students and paired them up. We started with ice breakers so they got to know each other better.

What we wanted to do was to have them work together as designer and client to produce a product.

Students took on both roles in the program giving each a chance to design packaging for a product that was specific to their partner’s interests and personality. Examples: Karla, from Mexico, designed a bag of spicy, tortilla chips named “Inferno” based on what she learned about Sandra. American student Sebastian collaborated with Karen and designed “foma” bubble bath.

Why it is Important for Students to Have International Collaboration

These programs are so valuable today because they get students out of their comfort zone. We get very comfortable in our neighborhoods, countries and college environments. Students from America’s more rural areas are not often given the opportunity to meet and collaborate with people from around the world.

Though they are studying to become designers, what they are really being trained to do is become problem solvers.

Given our current global economy, programs like COIL open up the opportunity to work for people around the world and more importantly, it allows them to think about working remotely in a new technological landscape.

It is becoming more and more common that people conduct business online. That is not only how we communicate but how we create products and collaborate with colleagues and customers at the start of 21st Century.

COIL takes students who actually may never meet each other, expand their mutual employability, build their resume’s and portfolios. Yes, this certainly does help them to become more employable, but more importantly, they develop confidence and the skills to communicate with the world they inhabit.

Technology, learning, lifestyles…it seems that everything is accelerating and education needs to keep up.