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Art Center College of Design | Pasadena, California | Learn to Create. Influence Change.
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Thokozani Mabena

Transportation Design

How did you come to the U.S.?
I am currently a 3rd term Transportation Design student from Zimbabwe born to parents of Bushman and Zulu heritage. l started down the creative path when l was just three-years-old; and I continued to take full advantage of the opportunities around me by attending Plumtree High School in Zimbabwe. The school offered a curriculum specializing in art, design and music. While there, l was exposed to drawing, automotive design, metalwork, music and architecture. That experience provided me with foundational creative design thinking skills.

My academic success allowed me to secure a four-year scholarship to study architecture at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. During school, I worked part-time creating architectural models for a firm in Dubai and Denmark. When I completed my studies at the university, Zimbabwe was in the midst of a very unstable political situation that forced me to relocate to the United States on a refugee visa. During the next two years, l traveled across seven states, backpacking and selling educational materials, while learning about the art, architecture and the people of America. My experiences on the road helped me develop essential design communication skills which I used as I launched my career over the next six years while working for two big architectural design firms.

What was your path to Art Center?
Since I always wanted to pursue automotive design way before coming to America, l found out about Art Center about seven years ago by reading the Car Design News website. l never imagined in my wildest dreams, that everything that happened to me since leaving Africa and becoming an architect in the U.S., would prepare me for a future pursuing my passion for automotive design. Since my goal was to someday push the limits of automotive design (while working in architecture), l enrolled in Art Center at Night classes at the Irvine Mazda Design Center in order to create a portfolio. The Art Center admissions office recommended the classes as a way to prepare for the degree program.

What has been the most challenging and the most rewarding so far?
So much has happened and evolved since I first started attending Art Center in the Summer of 2012. It is something I have never experienced before; where one is pushed mentally beyond one’s comfort zone to think way outside the box. I think the fact that students all dwell and design in one melting pod keeps the creative juices flowing. I have a strong sense of unity with my classmates, and most importantly, there’s a healthy competition where we all push and encourage each other as if we were all working together in one design office. Even though the workload seemed beyond my grasp, it has challenged me to be more effective when it comes to time management skills and deliverables. I can certainly see a huge improvement in my thinking process, drawing skills and my ability to communicate and present ideas.

What are your goals after graduation?
Design is very much at the core of who I am and what I will do professionally someday. After graduation, l would love to work on automotive interior design, and push the limits of what is currently being done and bring something new to the field. Eventually, when I'm able to return to Africa, I hope to open up my own design studio in Durban or Cape Town. Both are hubs for automotive manufacturing and assembly but there are no design studios in the region, so I would be filling that need. Art Center is like treasure planet, there's such an impressive wealth of knowledge and the instructors are amazing. The key to succeeding, I think, is that what ever dream you have, be it design, or, anything else, you have to push for it and never give up. The school will help you get were you need to be but making the dream come true is mostly up to you.

   
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