Thousands of Students Learn From Design Masters in Be Original Americas' Virtual Fellowship

Be Original Americas' Cofounder David Rosenkvist hosts a virtual class for 2020 student fellows. Photography courtesy of Be Original Americas. 

The word "fellowship" often brings to mind an exclusive opportunity when used in a university setting, but what if it returns to its roots, which—by definition—infer companionship, near and far? This year, the Be Original Americas fellowship, which typically takes on a handful of qualified students and runs from June 15 through July 17, now is open to any university student across the globe in its new virtual format. And the number of participants continues to increase by the day.

"Every morning I wake up and look at the updated number of registrants and it keeps growing," said Beth Dickstein of BDE who, along with David Rosenkvist, chief commercial and creative officer at Louis Poulsen, cofounded Be Original Americas. "We recently hit 2,673 participants," she added. Be Original Americas, a nonprofit that raises awareness about knockoff designs and spotlights the value of original craftsmanship, made the call to move its annual fellowship into a digital format earlier this year due to the pandemic. Aside from the diverse group of student participants, including those from Guatemala, India, South Korea, and Scandinavian countries, the program's virtual format also enables design experts throughout the world to offer insights and advice. "There's enormous diversity in our outreach for the students and it's just very exciting," noted Dickstein.

While previous fellows traveled domestically to learn about design firsthand, this year they are able to connect with an even broader range of makers. After all, it's not every day that Jørgen Jacobsen, silver manager at Georg Jensen, teaches thousands of students about working with the metal from Copenhagen where the brand operates a fully-operational silversmithy. "They're able to go to places that they couldn't go to, and learn from really, really substantial people," said Dickstein. That list includes representatives from 26 design firms, such as: Gensler; Herman Miller; Carl Hansen & Søn; Kartell; Fritz Hansen; and Bernhardt Design to name a few. Presentation topics range from sustainability to entrepreneurship to product design, with plenty of time for students to chime in with questions. 

"We look at the questions a lot, and they're always a similar vein," observed Dickstein. "The students are very interested in sustainability, that comes out each and every time. Our last question to presenters always is about final words of advice and a question that always comes up is: How do I get started?" While there may not be a universal answer to the latter, the Be Original Americas fellowship enables students to hone their design interests and begin to think about which path they may want to pursue going forward. 

Gabriele Chiave of Marcel Wanders Studio gives students a virtual tour from the Netherlands. Photography courtesy of Be Original Americas.

"We were surprised there were few questions about the current [COVID-19] situation," adds Dickstein. "They really were more interested in when this is all over... How will we function in our world?" For students interested in joining the second half of the virtual fellowship registration is ongoing through July 17 here