Meet CCAD class of 2019 valedictorian Mariah Zambuto

mariah zambuto

Mariah Zambuto (Industrial Design, 2019) has designs on the future. A product designer, design researcher, leader, and storyteller, Zambuto works by immersing herself completely in what interests her to find empathy with users and create design solutions that truly fit their needs.

The Omaha, Nebraska, native went through the academically rigorous International Baccalaureate program in high school as well as the Joslyn Art Museum’s Kent Bellows Mentoring Program, which matches teens with professional artist mentors.

“I love critical thinking and thinking about art and how it relates to culture,” she said in a CCAD Stories profile earlier this year.

With her family’s encouragement, Zambuto, the eldest of three, chose to attend Columbus College of Art & Design. She has been deeply involved with the CCAD community in the years since. In her major, Zambuto has worked for such clients such as Abbott, Lbrands, Little Tikes, and Nexen Tire.

Zambuto was part of a first-place winning team at the FirstBuild Mega-Hackathon in 2016, and this year was named the 2019 CCAD Industrial Design Society of America Merit Award Winner, representing CCAD at the regional competition. “The SMA Finalist student designer is someone with tremendous talent, breadth of skill, and who best embodies the industrial design program they represent,” Zambuto said. “Getting this award was honoring and humbling. It was validating to receive recognition for my work. Receiving this award made my dreams bigger, as well as more real and achievable.”

In addition, Zambuto was a Resident Advisor in CCAD’s residence halls for two years, becoming Lead RA her junior year. She spent time giving back to her community through a variety of service activities, including working on an organic farm in Nebraska for an entire summer.

Zambuto became involved with the local fitness community, too, as a member and brand ambassador for TITLE Boxing Club. During her final year at CCAD, she became TITLE Boxing Club Grandview’s marketing representative.

Being named class of 2019 valedictorian “means a great deal to me,” Zambuto said.

“Moving away from home to come here, I sometimes think, ‘Was it all worth it?’ I sometimes feel bad leaving my family behind,” she said. “So I’ve always been driven to prove myself, to prove that moving out here and going to school out of state was worth it. I didn’t set out to be valedictorian. I didn’t set out to get high marks. I did what I normally do—work hard. I created good work, I managed my time, and I got shit done. I got involved in my community, I engaged in big projects, I led teams, and I happened to get good grades because of it. I made a lot of mistakes in my career at CCAD, but I turned around and turned them all into lessons. Being valedictorian is a great honor. I am completely humbled.”

Read on to learn more about Zambuto’s memorable CCAD experiences, as well as her practice and how it has evolved. Then, check out more of what she’s been up to on Behance and follow her on Instagram.

mariah in front of work

What drives you and your practice?

The pursuit to understand people better. To give the user a voice. To improve lives in even the smallest ways.

How has your work evolved since coming to CCAD?

I’d say my work evolved from trying to solve big problems to solving small problems.

What I mean by this is: when I first started ID, all I wanted to do was solve big problems—wicked problems such as global warming, world hunger, the economy, the government, war, famine, poverty, the list goes on. Who doesn’t want to solve these problems? Why wouldn’t you? And I still create work that aligns with my ultimate morals, but I’ve realized that innovation doesn’t happen on a large scale. I can’t solve these big problems alone. However, I can solve small problems. I can create innovation in small parts of people’s lives. It’s those small, unnoticeable things, those little details, that actually make all the difference. So I went from big, big big picture to little details.

How would you describe your practice now?

I am a designer, a researcher, a listener, and a storyteller. I focus my process on having authentic experiences with the purpose of discovering someone else’s point of view and developing empathy to create solutions that truly fit user needs.

Who was your favorite favorite professor? Or what was your favorite class?

Assistant Professor John Youger’s Design Methodologies class. I took it sophomore year. It is the only class I ever got a B in during my time at CCAD. I was really confused as to why I got a B—I worked very hard in the class. When I asked John why I received that grade, he agreed with me that I did work very hard, but he didn’t believe I pushed myself to do my personal best. He saw my potential, and, basically, said with that B, “Hey, I know you were working as hard as you normally work, but you could work harder and do more.” That was a big moment for me. Someone was challenging me to be better, even though I was already good. Most educators don’t do that, unfortunately. They work a lot with the kids who struggle, but when they see a student who is doing well, they kinda just pass them by because they know they’ll be OK. Not John. He made sure I knew I always had room for improvement. So now, when I work, I always think, “Am I pushing myself enough?” “Is this strong enough?” “What more could I add?”

Getting that B was very motivating.

What would you say was your favorite experience at CCAD?

Meeting my best friend, Kwaku, sophomore year, is a favorite memory I will always cherish. Moments working late with him, figuring stuff out, laughing so hard, being so tired are moments that mean the world to me. The struggle and hustle through school is made better with friends.

What will you most miss about CCAD?

How small it is. I feel truly connected. If I had gone to a bigger school, I’m not sure I would feel that way. There are lots of shared experiences here within the CCAD community, and this experience is so special. I’m proud to be an art and design student.

What are you looking forward to doing next?

Hopefully, taking my talents to a company I am very excited about in the near future. Spending more time with friends and family. Getting started on personal work. Making time for traveling.

Learn more about Industrial Design at CCAD or apply here.