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COLUMBUS, Ohio—Retail is not dead; it’s at a crossroads, and Columbus College of Art & Design (CCAD) plans to prepare leaders who can reenvision the industry’s future and solve some of its biggest challenges through a new graduate program. CCAD’s Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in Retail Design launches in January 2022 and is the first of its kind in the nation. The flexible program, which allows students to enroll full- or part-time and in-person or synchronously online from anywhere, was developed for retail designers, entrepreneurs, visual merchandisers, design strategists, omnichannel specialists, environmental branders, and other retail professionals.The 30-credit degree can be completed in as soon as one year full-time or two years part-time, including summers, and is ideal for recent graduates or those seeking a career shift. Classes are held on evenings and weekends and all students will gather together annually in the fall for a days-long bootcamp aimed at cohort-building. Students will experience a cutting-edge approach to learning with a rich mix of theory and practice in a program developed and taught by retail experts, including those working in consulting firms, in-house design departments, and professional organizations. Through the program, students will gain a deeper understanding of how customers engage with brands and make purchase decisions, from e-commerce to brick and mortar and everything in between.

CCAD is thrilled to launch this groundbreaking new graduate program, which draws together a trifecta of expertise—CCAD as a generator of creative innovators and the engine of Columbus' creative economy; Columbus itself as a nationally-recognized hub for retail and distribution expertise and experiment; and a program Advisory Board of local and national leaders in retail design who will steer the program's curriculum and connect with its students,” says Dr. Jennifer Schlueter, Dean of Graduate Studies at CCAD. “This program could only happen at CCAD, and we are excited to lead with a graduate program that will articulate the future of retail design, filling a niche in training that is consumer-centric and channel-agnostic.”

Columbus is home to some of the country’s top retailers, including Abercrombie & Fitch, Bath & Body Works, Big Lots, and Hollister. Thanks to this location, as well as CCAD’s deep and numerous industry connections, students will have access to top talent, mentors, and opportunities from these and other companies. The culmination of the program is an immersive capstone project in which students work directly with a retail partner. Ken McQuade is Lead Design Project Architect for Target Properties and an Advisory Board Member for the MPS program. He says adaptability, one of the key principles explored in the program, is indispensable in managing the increasingly changing nature of retail. This is a lesson Target has learned through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

While use of drive up and order pickup services increased astronomically during the pandemic, Target’s physical stores became more important than ever as fulfillment centers for these new services,” McQuade says. “The physical brick and mortar store is evolving, and is more important than ever. Students from the MPS in Retail Design program with a training in digital and physical retail trends would be invaluable to retailers navigating the rapidly changing environment.”

Jeni Britton Bauer, Founder and COO of Columbus-based Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams and an Advisory Board Member for the MPS program, says retail is booming in the U.S., but it’s not the retail of the past.

People are looking for alignment with the brands they interact with,” says Britton Bauer. “Companies have to mean something to their customers, not just sell stuff. It’s a complex and emotional customer journey that takes place in many realms—online, in store, at home. And it takes new thinking and training to get it right. CCAD has put together a group of intrepid thinkers and doers in this industry with the goal to be a national leader in Retail Design for now and the future.”