2012 DTA Medal

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Kathryn Filla

Distinguished Teacher 2012–13

Kathryn Filla (BID ‘71, MID ‘76), adjunct professor, Department of Industrial Design, joined the Pratt faculty in 1999. An alumna of the Institute’s undergraduate and graduate programs in industrial design, she studied under Rowena Reed Kostellow and William Folger, who were both leaders in the field of industrial design education and were known around the world for their advanced approaches to the study of three-dimensional design. Filla went on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Advanced Visual Design Center and completed her formal education at the Bank Street College Graduate School of Education.

Filla has designed exhibits, products, and interiors for diverse companies including Converse, Corning Glass, Dell, MRI Electronics, Santini & Demenici shoe stores, KB Toys, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art gift store.

Presently she is a member of Pratt’s Academic Senate and serves on the Committee for Academic Programs and Policies. Filla is also the coordinator of three-dimensional design in the Department of Industrial Design and a member of the Foundation Program curriculum task force. From 1998 to 2003 she chaired the Mary Buckley and Joseph Parriot Endowed Scholarship fund, and in 2010 she served as the faculty representative on the Pratt Institute Board of Trustees.

Filla has lectured on three-dimensional design at Technologico de Monterrey in Guadalajara, Mexico and her writings on design education include co-authoring the article “Industrial Design and its Education, Defining its Visual Responsibility,” forthcoming in Innovation Magazine.

Commencement Speech

In the spring of 1967 I came to Pratt for my portfolio interview. I loved the place because it felt and smelled like an art school. The smell of the oil paint and clay, the old creaky floors, all the drawings on the walls and that there would be other people like me, other artists and architects. It all felt like an art school. So I came to Pratt and it changed my life.

Pratt, it has been your home, your nest, a place of beginnings, a place of departures, a place of transformations. It is the location of your second validation, the first is from your parents, that it’s ok being you, it’s ok that you are not going to be a doctor or a software programmer. That you are gifted and will contribute to the culture in other meaningful ways. That you will follow your bliss to quote the educator on myth Joseph Campbell. The second validation of your individual talent is from your teachers at Pratt, whom you have put your trust and hope, hope being the condition of your soul. And to what? To a rigorous work ethic and a love for making the useful and the beautiful.

And it’s not easy to know what as a student you are capable of. Like staying up all night to finish your projects, eating the incredibly, expensive bad food in the cafeteria, or money programs with the bursar. But good things too- like the sweet, sweet feeling of sanding the last piece of balsa wood for your thesis model or the sweet, sweet feeling of getting the right color for your LCD project, or the sweet, sweet feeling of seeing that beautiful curve emerge from a block of plaster for your convexity form. All that and more, there’ always more.

There’s a story I like to tell my sophomore students in industrial design and it applies to all of you here. It’s the arctic tern story. There’s a huge rock in the arctic ocean where the arctic terns are born, live for awhile and the terns at maturity have to fly for the first time in a great leap off the cliff or crash to the rocks below.

Now imagine you are the arctic terns your parents as your parent terns they help you go from the nest a little further out on the rock, and then your teachers, the older terns (or some other adjective) they help you to stretch your wings and little legs to get to the edge of the cliff and they all get you ready to fly.  So now it is the moment, that time to get off the rock. And wow, you fly, a little hesitant but strong with your new wings. Look back for a second, thank your parents, it’s really their day. You have already thanked me and your teachers big time, and remember to take with you one hundred and twenty five years of knowledge in all its manifestations from Pratt. Remember too that there are there rocks for you to land on. So open your wings, go and fly.