The Mendoza College of Business began its portrait series with a photo of students celebrating a top ranking.
FOR EIGHT YEARS, the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana has been displaying fun, quirky, oversize banners of students to convey the idea that its business undergraduates are anything but stereotypical. Initially conceived as signage that could be hung during recruiting events for prospective students, the portraits have received such positive reactions that they have almost come to symbolize the college itself.
The portrait series began in 2012 when the Mendoza School wanted to create website imagery to celebrate a top ranking from Businessweek. Photographer Matt Cashore captured a shot of six students leaping joyfully into the air as they held up fingers to signify “We’re No. 1!” Each student had assumed such a distinct and energetic pose that the communications team decided they could slice the group photo into separate images to create six individual display banners, says Carol Elliott, director of communications for the Mendoza College.
Since that time, the school has created a new series about every two years. “The banners are big—33.5 inches by 80 inches—so they make for a striking exhibit, especially when we need to fill up a large space,” says Elliott.
Each portrait is accompanied by a brief bio that includes the student’s name, major, and information about hobbies and interests. “The bios are intentionally short to be read at a glance and surprising in that they show different facets of our students’ personalities and interests beyond their academic studies,” says Elliott. “The banner presents the whole person—visually and descriptively.”
While the campaign has been tweaked every year, in 2018 it took off in a strong new direction. The communications team and the undergraduate studies advising team worked together to create a campaign that would present business students even more holistically as individuals with a wide range of interests. The result was the theme More Than My Major.
One key to the campaign’s success was showcasing diverse individuals who represented the college’s six majors. Advisers from undergraduate studies created a list of potential students to feature. The communications team worked with Alison Levey, associate director of undergraduate studies, to interview candidates to determine what information to include in each photo and accompanying bio.
The More Than My Major campaign showcases diverse business students with a wide range of outside
interests. Students featured in signage frequently pose in front of their banners to take photos for social
media—and the school gifts them the banners when they graduate.
“We made sure each student was engaged in the process to come up with creative ideas about what they would wear and what items they would bring with them to the photo shoots,” says Elliott. “So they dragged in everything from saddles to bagpipes. The message was intended to thematically tie some element of their hobbies with their majors.”
The shoots were directed by designer Elissa Chudzicki, with the participation of Melissa Jackson and Zara Osterman of Mendoza Communications. Cashore photographed each student individually, using a black backdrop and a set lighting arrangement to ensure that the images were consistent in look. “Maintaining the same perspective so that they were all the same scale while fitting in all of their extra gear was probably the trickier part,” Elliott notes.
“THE BANNERS HAVE COME TO REPRESENT THE LARGER MISSION OF MENDOZA TO TAKE BIG-PICTURE PERSPECTIVES.”—CAROL ELLIOTT
The finished banners had been designed primarily to serve as physical signage at recruitment events and in the undergraduate studies office, which sees a large volume of foot traffic from parents, students, and prospects. “But because the images came out so well, we have used them in the Mendoza Business magazine and as digital signage in the building,” says Elliott. Individual departments within Mendoza College have borrowed the banners for their own events, including academic conferences, and the images also have been used at large events such as commencement.
“The banners have come to represent the larger spirit and mission of Mendoza to take big-picture perspectives,” she says. “The students personify our tagline, ‘Grow the Good in Business.’” The campaign also was recognized with an Excellence Award from the University & College Designers association.
For the future, the communications team plans to complete a new set of portraits every two years. In addition to being printed on display banners, the photos will be used for a redesigned undergraduate viewbook, says Elliott. “We also would like to plan more intentional social media campaigns around them that include telling each student’s story in a long-form narrative.”
Elliott knows it takes a certain combination of skill, luck, and preparation to capture shots that she describes as magical. “Picking the right subjects with diverse interests is definitely key,” she says. “Other really important elements are conducting interviews with students, talking through the themes and ideas with the photographer and the design team, figuring out the best setup, knowing the specs for the banners—and keeping it fun for the students. We don’t approach this as a photo or even a design project. It’s a student-centered project.”
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