Program Coordinator Craig Satterlee talks with PhotoVideoEDU about Northwest's affordable, commercially oriented program; its picturesque location near Yellowstone; and its tight-knit community. Watch the video and read the interview.
For more information about Northwest College, and to see photos of the campus, visit the school's profile in the Prospectus.
PhotoVideoEDU: What is distinctive about your program?
Craig Satterlee: One thing is the small nature of it. We have between 80 and 125 students, so there’s a strong relationship between the faculty and students. Because of our size, we have a really good environment of creativity. We aren’t too small, yet we aren’t so big that people are afraid to speak up. And even though we’re small, our students end up being successful. I like to tell people that we’re the biggest secret in photography education, because we turn out high-quality graduates, but not that many people know about us. We don’t have a big advertising expense accounts to work with. That’s how we keep our tuition so low.
We’re very inexpensive and we have a lot of equipment for the students. It’s high-quality equipment, much of it from MAC Group. We have about 8,000 square feet of studios, computer labs, and darkrooms. Students don’t have to invest tons of money in something they’re not sure they’re ready for. With room and board, the annual cost for them ranges from $7,034 to $10,826, depending on state residency. At a lot of other schools, you can’t even get close to that.
Another unique thing about us is that we try to maintain a relationship with our students well after they graduate. We are small and we do remember everybody, and now with Facebook and Twitter, it’s pretty easy to keep in touch. It’s just that family commitment. We really do rely on those alumni connections, so that our students today can see where their future will lie.
We also have a Digital Preservation section within our program. It’s pretty well known. It covers how to prepare archival work for storage—everything from cyanotypes to glass plates. It’s slanted toward museum preservation.
MOC: What kinds of students does the program attract?
Craig Satterlee: The students we get are pretty grounded in their responsibility to what they’re doing. That’s why they come to us. They know that we’re focused on what they’re focused on. I can’t tell you how many international kids have told us that they looked all over the world and that for the money we’re the best because of what we’re offering. They’ve done their research, and they know that we’re going to get them out there into the real world.
We have a broad base of Intermountain students from Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Idaho. We’ll also get one or two students from places like Kansas and Florida. We have a number of international students every year. Lately our students have been predominantly female. I’ve seen that go in cycles. We also always have a group of 10 to 15 older students at each class level.
MOC: What kind of campus does your school have, and what is student life like?
Craig Satterlee: It’s a beautiful campus to walk around. It’s all brick and has a couple older-looking buildings, although most of it looks pretty modern. The campus is residential. It looks like a regular university campus. Dorms are on the edge, and the college itself is in the central area. There are five or six dorms on campus. We also have married student housing and more apartment-like housing. It’s all within walking distance. I’d say about 15 percent of our students commute.
There are all types of events on campus. Because we’re so close to outdoor recreation, students have ski trips and go mountain climbing. They do bicycling and canoeing. They also have activities like racquetball, softball, and basketball. We have all the major sports except football. Bands come and play on campus, and a lot of writers from the area come in and speak.
MOC: Does the program have required courses or final requirements?
Craig Satterlee: We have a capstone course, and we have four semesters of classes that students have to take. There are also some general education requirements.
Students create printed and online portfolios too. We usually bring in eight to ten outside professionals, who come in and interview the students so that they have a pretty good handle on how that kind of interview goes. The faculty have contacts throughout the industry that we’ll send people to with their portfolios, so we get a pretty good rate of placing people, even though we don’t promise anything, because I don’t think any school can do that, but we do pretty well.
MOC: Do your students do internships?
Craig Satterlee: Some do, but it’s not something that we push much. Our students want to get right out in the workforce and start working. So for us, internships have never been the focus. We’re really looking at getting people full-time jobs someplace.
MOC: Do you hold special events for photography students?
Craig Satterlee: We do a photo walk and a shootout, and we bring in speakers. Jay Maisel, Bobbi Lane, George DeWolfe, and Sam Abell have been here. We also travel a lot. We take students to WPPI, and we go to a lot of professional conferences. We did a Cuba trip in May, and we go to Paris in March.
MOC: Do your students get opportunities to show their work?
Craig Satterlee: We have two galleries on campus. We do a departmental show towards the end of the year, and we have travel shows. For example, we’re going to Paris this year, and when we get back we’ll put a show up.
There’s a gallery called Open Range in Cody. It’s a private enterprise, but we buy a co-op share of it, so if students want to participate there it’s available. They’ll have certain spaces where they can put work up. They can also work in the gallery and go to meetings. By the time they’re done, they have a pretty good idea of how a gallery functions. Students can also go up to Billings, Montana. There are some galleries up there.
MOC: What areas do graduates of your program go on to work in as professionals?
Craig Satterlee: Many do portraits, and we have a lot that go into studio advertising work. Those are the two big areas. I would say probably 20 percent pursue photojournalism. I expect that to change; that area is growing because of video. That’s the area we’ve expanded into most recently. In the photojournalism world, students usually transfer to continue their studies. A lot of them end up in public relations work. We also have graduates in New York doing fashion, and two people on the Denver Post who have won Pulitzer Prizes.
MOC: Could you name a few distinguished graduates?