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. 

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect final participation numbers in the program.

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 two qualified students and runs from June 15 through July 17, opened to any university student across the globe in its new virtual format. And the number of participants increased 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 during the early weeks of the fellowship, 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 at the time. In total, the program reached more than 3,400 students from 30+ countries spanning five continents. 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 to name a few, the program's virtual format also enabled 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 connected 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“I’m appreciative for the opportunity to present to the next generation of creative talent across the world at Be Original Americas’ first virtual fellowship," said Ehren Gaag, design director and principal at Gensler. "Although we couldn’t be together in person, the interactive nature of the virtual sessions allowed me to answer questions directly from the students and guide them in their path to pursuing a career in architecture and design.” 

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.

“My experience with the virtual fellowship has opened my vision of what design is outside of school, it gives me that dose of daily energy to want to know more about design and has been very motivating and inspiring," said Sergio Gabriel Salazar Rodríguez, a student at the Industrial Design Student at Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey in Mexico. "My favorite part is to see the behind the scenes of working in a studio or design factories." Though the fellowship ended July 17, student participants will have access to a private YouTube channel with reference information from the program. On September 1, the videos will be released for public viewing on Be Original Americas' YouTube channel. 



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