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Dr. Perry Sweeper

Avid listeners of the podcast know that whenever I have a Black design educator on the show, eventually I’m going to bring up my alma mater, Morehouse College. And while I’ve had a few Morehouse alums on the show in the past, I’m really excited to have an actual Morehouse faculty member — Dr. Perry Sweeper — as a guest this week. Has Morehouse leveled up since I was a student there *cough cough* years ago?

After a quick summer check-in, we talked about Morehouse’s software engineering major, and about how it feels teaching at a school with such a historic reputation. From there, Dr. Sweeper told the story about growing up in Baltimore, attending Morgan State University, and how his post-grad career led him into education. With great minds like Dr. Sweeper teaching the next generation, I think we’re going to be in good hands for the future!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right. So tell us who you are and what you do.

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
Hi. My name is Dr. Perry Sweeper. I’m a Professor of Practice at Morehouse College. I’m a designer, an educator, and a researcher.

Maurice Cherry:
What is a Professor of Practice? What does that mean?

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
So there are different levels at universities. There are Adjunct Professors, who maybe teach one or two classes. There are also people who are on the tenure track, who might be in the Assistant Professor ranks. A Professor of Practice, by my definition, is someone who comes in from industry to teach a particular class or classes for a university.
And one of the benefits of having someone in a Professor of Practice role, is they’re someone who’s both working in industry and academia at the same time, so they can give you a right now experience, from the perspective of a person working in the field, for the students.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. That makes sense. So it’s not like someone that’s a career academic essentially?

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
Correct.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. All right. I got you. I was thinking, I know that there’s some trade schools I know that do that. I think the art institutes do that as well. They’ll have people who are actually working professionals, but then they also will teach courses and stuff.

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
So how’s the summer going for you so far?

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
It is busy. It’s really busy. It’s good. I’m going to try to take some time to rest before classes start in a couple of weeks, but it’s going well.

Maurice Cherry:
Are you ready for the upcoming school year?

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
Yes. I am. I’m ready to talk to students again, interact with students again. I have some things that I want to do as far as the syllabus is concerned or the curriculum, some tweaks I want to make, but other than that, I’m fully prepared and ready to go.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Speaking of school, you teach at Morehouse College, and listeners of this show know I am an alumnus of Morehouse College. You started in the 2021 school year. I’m just curious, how has it been teaching during the pandemic?

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
It has been extremely interesting because you have to be agile and flexible, and in your work role, in the way that you assign, you also have to be transparent as well and you have to be empathetic to what’s going on with the students. So during that time, I tried to make sure that I was thinking about what was going on and also trying to get a cadence of where the students were physically, mentally, and emotionally because some of them were stuck at home and not able to come to campus, or they came to campus and they had to leave. There were so many different things going on personally with the students, so it was a really, really interesting time. I think it is actually a time where it felt like we were really, really far apart, but I think it brought the campus community closer together in a way.

Maurice Cherry:
And now you haven’t been to the campus yet though, have you?

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
No, I haven’t.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, you got to come down to Atlanta and come to the campus. I don’t live that far from Morehouse actually.

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
Oh, awesome. Yeah, I actually visited the Morehouse campus years ago, probably 10 or 15 years ago, but I haven’t been there since.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
Morehouse is a college that has a distinct history, so I’ve heard a lot about it, read a lot about it. It’s actually an honor to be able to teach at the school.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s changed a lot since I graduated certainly, which is, my God, knocking on 20 years ago. Oh, my God, I just thought about that. I just did the math. I mean, the campus has changed a lot in terms of they’ve expanded in some ways. There’s a performing arts center now. They’ve got campus apartments and things like that. I think even the building where… You’re in the Computer Science Department I think pretty much, right?

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
Correct, yes.

Maurice Cherry:
So even the building where that is used to be… When I was there, the computer lab and all that stuff used to be in Wheeler, but you haven’t to campus, so you don’t know this. There used to be a Wheeler Hall, which is right near the entrance of Morehouse, and then they built the Technology Tower, which is where they moved it, which is kind of near Sale Hall and near Graves Hall, which is kind of near the big lawn on Morehouse’s campus, the great lawn on Morehouse’s campus. It’s nice if you get a chance to check it out. Actually, I don’t know if this is true, but you’ll have to tell me, does Mrs. Banks still work there?

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
Mrs. Banks?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
What’s the first name?

Maurice Cherry:
Martha. She’s the Administrative Assistant for the Computer Science Department.

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
I almost remember her retiring.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, man.

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
Don’t know if it’s the right person, but I’m not a good person to ask when it comes to… I know interacting with the department, I haven’t had a chance to interact with her.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, okay.

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
So yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
She was like my mom on campus. I was a math major, so most of my stuff was in Dansby I believe. I’m trying to remember the names of the dorm now that I’m thinking about it, or the names of the buildings. I think most of my stuff was in Dansby, but I was doing work study stuff, so I would always be in the computer lab. I would always be in Mrs. Bank’s office at the desk and everything. I don’t know if she still works there. I mean, I would imagine 20 years from now, probably not, because I think she had been there probably since the ’80s when I started, so I don’t know.
If she is still there, shout out to Mrs. Banks, who has been helping a generation of Black male technologists pass through that school. She is an unsung hero of Morehouse College.

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
Wow. While we’re shouting out Ms. Banks, who I’m going to look up by the way, we have to shout out all of the Administrative Assistants who were like moms and aunts at HBCUs.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, yeah.

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
There’s always one. When you’re talking about Ms. Banks, I’m thinking of Ms. Brown. I’m thinking of countless others, and Ms. Ash in my experiences at HBCUs, so that’s really interesting to hear you talk about her.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk about some of the courses that you’re teaching. What are you teaching at Morehouse?

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
Right now I’m teaching Human-Computer Interaction. Last summer, I also wrote a Data Visualization course as well, and so I’m looking to teach that very soon.

Maurice Cherry:
So you were telling me before we started recording that what you’re doing is kind of… Or at least the program in which you’re teaching is not really a department. It’s like an interdisciplinary studies program. Is that right?

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
Yes. It’s experiential learning and interdisciplinary studies, and so there are various subjects in the department. I think that it’s a really innovative way to look at education. Morehouse is doing something very interesting as well because they’ve had some shifts in the way that they have designed their program, and even as I’m talking, very recently they’ve changed the structure, the departments, so departments, divisions, chairs, it’s really going to be more of a STEM-oriented environment, more so.
This will be the first semester that we’re under that structure, so I’m looking forward to that as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Can you major in Design at Morehouse? I would imagine with this experiential learning and interdisciplinary studies, you can kind of mix and match kind of different fields of study. When I went there, and I’ve told this story countless times in presentations and stuff, I started at Morehouse in 1999, right around the early days of the web, and I remember telling my Computer Science professor there, Dr. Jones.
I started in a dual degree program doing Computer Science/Computer Engineering, and I remember going to him one day and telling him that I wanted to do Web design. I was interested in Web design. I had been doing view source on websites and stuff, and I told him about it. I remember him telling me that the Internet was a fad, and that if I wanted to study that, I would need to change my major because that’s not what we study here. He’s like, “We do hardcore computer science. We’re learning assembly. We’re teaching you how to be a programmer.”
I wanted to be a programmer, but just not, I guess, a computer programmer. I wanted to do Web design, and so I did end up changing my major, but I’m wondering now, since Morehouse went through all these shifts in curriculum and programs as you mentioned, is it possible now to major in design there?

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
No, it’s not. There is an Art Program, and then there’s a Computer Science Program. So a lot of the students that I actually teach in Human-Computer Interaction are Software Engineering majors.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting.

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
And so you won’t get the design part, but my background is design, so I teach Human-Computer Interaction from a design standpoint or a UX-design standpoint because the fields are so closely knit. When you look at industry, typically when you look at the waterfall method of software design, you get an idea, you make it, and you give it to the users, and that’s it. Then you have agile and other methodologies where you’re constantly iterating on the design and speaking to users as you go along, so that what you actually produce is something that the users will actually want and need for what they’re doing.
So it’s really interesting to interact with computer science students and engineers because I take pride in bringing this perspective to them and teaching them about psychology and teaching them about doing interviews with your users and finding out about them and learning about the environment that those users are working in, whether they’re going to be looking at a computer screen for a very long time and they might need dark mode, or just a lot of different things. So it’s almost like looking at anthropology or ethnography and really getting to know the users.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s really interesting that Morehouse has kind of branched out in that way. I mean, I knew that they had the art major, and I don’t know if they have any more art professors because the one professor they had I remember, Dr. Anderson, I believe he passed away. I’m pretty sure they might have another art professor now if they still have the major, but I often get asked from people when I tell them I went to Morehouse and because I’ve been a working designer for so long, they’re like, “Oh, did you major in design?” I was like, “No, I majored in math,” and they’re like, “What? How’re you a designer and you didn’t go to design school?”
That’s interesting. I would like to see Morehouse still have some kind of a design discipline of some sort because I feel like it’s something that the school is really greatly missing. I mean, they’ve got music. They’ve got so many other things. I just feel like one day, and I’m saying this probably partially out of vanity because I would like to come back and speak at Morehouse one day, but I can’t really speak to the Math Department because I don’t do math and I can’t speak to the Computer Science Department because I don’t do computer science, so yeah.

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
We can make that happen now. We can make it happen.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Let’s talk about that offline then. We’ll confer about that.

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
Yeah. It’s actually a desire of mine to one day see a design program at Morehouse as well, and so we’ll see how far we get that in the next five years.

Maurice Cherry:
How has it been teaching at such a well known institution? Do you feel any kind of pressure or anything?

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, Morehouse is looked at… As far as males and Black colleges and excellence and all of the alumni and graduates who are doing great things out there, it’s a lot of pressure as a professor because I’m not a Morehouse Man, but I take pride in having a hand in the education of a Morehouse Man. So being able to understand the history and the distinction behind it is, I think, integral in being a part of the campus in a way, and when I say the campus, I mean just the academic cadre of folks that are there.
I haven’t gotten to interact with certain professors there, like Dr. Muhsinah Morris, who’s doing Morehouse in the Metaverse, or the Metaversity. I’m teaching on Zoom, but in the next year or two, I want to transition to VR headsets and looking at a hybrid way to kind of teach on that campus, and she has been just integral in making sure that that happened during the pandemic. It’s just amazing to see that grow at the university as well.
We had the COVID and all of that. It’s terrible some of the things that happened during that time, but it’s just a great opportunity for innovation in academia.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I know last year’s commencement took place in the metaverse. I got an email about that. I was like, “Oh, isn’t that something?”

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
Yeah. It is. Actually it’s a direction we want to go in. We are partnering with different EdTech companies and trying to make sure that we are looking at education in a different way and making it available to more students.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, if you’re looking for some Black folks that are doing stuff in the metaverse, I can certainly introduce you to a few we’ve had on the show before.

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
Absolutely. Yeah, definitely. I would love to get those recommendations, and I will comb through it myself and look at it because your podcast is basically a place to go for research at this point. So I’ll definitely do that homework, and I’ll look at those recommendations.

Maurice Cherry:
What’s the rest of the department like? Have you had a chance to work with any other professors? Or talk with any other professors?

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
Yes. So the Division Chair, Dr. Kinnis Gosha, he’s been just integral in my development. He’s the one who posted the job, and so getting an opportunity to speak to him. He’s at the university. He’s an Endowed Professor, so he is been at the university for a while, and he runs the Culturally Relevant Computing Lab there, and so they’re doing some really interesting projects around Black male initiatives and technology. So being able to speak to him and Dr. Morris as well has been great.

Maurice Cherry:
Well man, you got to come down to the campus. I think you’ve got to come and spend at least a week on campus. Go to Crown Forum, see the King statue, definitely got to eat at Chivers. Got to eat at Chivers.

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
Okay.

Maurice Cherry:
You got to go through the Technology Tower. You got to go see the view of the grass. Don’t walk on the grass, that’s the one thing. There’s a big great lawn in front of Graves Hall, which is the main… When you see the Morehouse logo, that building, that’s Graves Hall. It’s a dormitory. Don’t walk on the lawn, it’s supposed to be bad luck. Especially if you didn’t go to Morehouse, it’s supposed to be bad luck. People play soccer on that lawn sometimes, but that was 20 years ago. I don’t know what it is like now. But you got to go and experience really not just Morehouse, but experience the AUC.
You said that you’ve been to Morehouse before though, right? Didn’t you say came here several years ago?

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
Yes. So I came to Atlanta. I saw the campus. I saw some of the campus. I saw a lot of Dr. King monuments and different artifacts. So I’ve been down there, but it’s been a while. During the pandemic, I planned it once, and then, “Oh, COVID is high,” and it’s all these different things. So it’s been up and down, but I feel it. How can I teach at the university and not actually step on campus? I just feel I have to make it happen. I have to do that. Even if you do it virtually and you walk around campus with some Oculus VR headsets on, I got to go and look at some of these things that you’re referring to.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, man. I’m telling you the AUC in the spring is lit. I mean, the Strip, which is this promenade. It’s mostly Clark Atlanta, but it connects Clark Atlanta, Morehouse, and Spelman. It kind of connects us together. I mean, in the springtime, I might be looking at this through filtered 20-year-old rose-colored glasses, but man, I’m telling you, springtime on the Strip is like none other. It’s paradise, just a cavalcade of positive Blackness as far as the eye can see.
People talk about a different world, and Hillman, which of course is based off of Morehouse and Spelman, it’s very much like that. Especially when Spelman opens up, and they have Market Fridays and you get to see Lower Manley and the steps and everything. Oh, it’s such an experience. I have pictures from that time because I was a photographer. Back then, I called myself a photographer, I had a digital camera. I just look back at that time like, “Oh, man. We were so young, just so crazy.”
It was such a wild time, and it’s funny because some of us now have went on to do great things in the world. The current Mayor of Birmingham, Randall Woodfin, we were in the same graduating class, in the same class.

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
[inaudible 00:21:47].

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So it’s really interesting. I don’t know. It’s funny because like I said, I don’t live that far from Morehouse. I don’t really go there because I don’t have a need to as an adult 20 years out of college, but it is right there in the neighborhood. It’s just good to know that it’s there and it’s still kind of doing great things in the community. So what do you learn from your students? What do they teach you?

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
Well, I had this project during COVID, and it was my attempt… So let’s go to Black Panther for a second. I’m super excited. November is coming, so we’re going to get… But there is this scene in Black Panther where they’re there and they go back, and they want to give this new technology to the United States, I perceive it as, that they’ve never seen before. You have the little kids, and they’re like looking at what looks like to them a spaceship or crazy looking car and this new technology, and their idea was to bring this innovative technology into this urban environment and see how it could improve.
So I thought about that in one of the projects that I gave. So the way that the course works, you learn the principles of the human-computer interaction during the first half of the semester, and as you learn those principles, you get small projects, but the students gain an understanding of what human-computer interaction is.
Then during the second part of the semester, they start putting those things into practice. So the project was to come up with a piece of technology that would be needed in a community like that, and I framed it based on that part of Black Panther. Just some of the projects that came out of that, so what did I learn from them? I learned where their minds are, where their focused at. I was just so, not surprised because I know they’re all bright students there, they teach me that all semester, but to see just a small example of the contribution that some of these students can make and will make in society, it’s amazing.
Some of the projects they came up with, for instance, was this one-line encyclopedia or anthology. So in 2020 and 2021, there are all kinds of things going on in the news and so forth and so on, so if you had to have a conversation or talk to someone about what was going on, a lot of people didn’t want to talk about it. Others wanted to talk about it, but they didn’t know how.
And so one of the students came up with this version of an online encyclopedia or resource, where it had all of these resources on things that were going on racially in the community, how to talk about it, different resources, and so he put his time into it. It’s a human-computer interaction class, so you don’t have to code it, but he went the extra mile and actually coded the site and put it up and running. Their projects, they always just blow me away, some of the things that they come up with.
So in the AUC, as you know, there’s Morehouse, Clark Atlanta, and Spelman, so I’ve had an opportunity to interact with Clark Atlanta students and Spelman students as well. I had a very large group of Spelman students in my class last semester, and it was just excellence. All of the projects, they were always on point. No matter what was going on, they were active in class, asking questions, so forth and so on.
They really, really teach me the greatness of this generation. In society we can go and look and say, “Oh, these kids don’t know anything about music and they’re doing this or doing that,” like generations before, but to see just excellence from the students is extremely encouraging.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. I have a feeling that Spelman students are probably pretty good. I mean, probably better than Morehouse students, and I say that not out of rank comparison, but I keep bringing this back to my time there because that’s such a easy reference for me to pull from. But I mean, I went through a summer program before I started my freshman year, and I mean, the women at Spelman were just leaps and bounds above the guys at Morehouse. We were in a similar program. It was a NASA-funded program. I mean, just leaps and bounds. It was amazing, so I can only imagine.

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
Yeah. They’re exceptional.

Maurice Cherry:
So let’s kind of switch gears here and learn more about you. Let’s learn more about your origin story. Tell me where you grew up.

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
So I grew up in Baltimore City, and I grew up not too far from Morgan State University where I later went to school. So as a kid growing up in Baltimore City, all the schools I went to were less than five miles apart. We call it Smalltimore here because it seems like you know someone who knows someone else, and you end up being related to folks that you didn’t know you were related to, or people know your parents and different things like that. So I grew up in Baltimore, Smalltimore. I didn’t know about design growing up, but I loved art, and so I grew up getting Disney Adventures magazines.
When I got older, I used to take my allowance and buy Vibes and XXL and Black Enterprise and all of those magazines, and I would really spend a lot of time in the house, dissecting those magazines, finding out who those people were. It got to a point where I was dissecting them. I was looking at them so in depth that I found out who was designing it and what their job titles were. So going from being an artist per se and drawing all the time, I learned about graphic design. I learned about design.
Fast forward to high school, I went to Baltimore City College High School in Baltimore. There was an opportunity at the school to do independent study when you’re in 12th grade, and so I took two semesters of independent study, drawing, doing artwork, producing a portfolio at that point. That’s how my career started from that point, learning about graphic design.
As I’m matriculating at Morgan State University, I got more into my program and started to get more interested in graphic design, I volunteered to work on the yearbook at the university. They were somehow behind in years, so it might have been the year 2003, and they were behind. They hadn’t given the graduating seniors from the 2001 or 2002 graduating year their yearbooks, so what they did was they contracted us students who had graphic design skills to actually design the yearbook, do all the layout, and make it look like it wasn’t a yearbook, make it look more like a magazine.
That was our objective, to make this interesting. They’ve been waiting a really, really long time, let’s make this good. So for about two or three years, I worked in that office. It was right across the hall from the newspaper office as well, and so before the offices became integrated and it became Student Publications, I worked separately, giving some extra effort to help out with the newspaper and also help out with the yearbook. So while I was learning, I was looking at other opportunities to gain experience while I was on that campus.
It’s like all of these things just kind of snowballed together because I gained an understanding of publication design and that particular office, the Office of Student Publications, was run by Ms. Denise Brown, who was one of those people that felt like your mother. And if she didn’t feel like your mother, she at least felt like your aunt, and she ran those offices and we produced those publications. We caught up, and she gave us other opportunities as well. One of the professionals who was helping out with that newspaper actually worked at the Washington Post, so we talked, and he said, “Keep in touch,” and I kept in touch with him.
So I graduated and after graduation, I got an email from him saying, “Hey, we got an opportunity for a person to come and be a Production Assistant at the Washington Post.” The Washington Post had a Washington Post magazine, and so at the Washington Post, I got to work on that Washington Post magazine, helping to layout those stories that go in it.
I worked in Student Publications, but everybody knows the Washington Post in the States, so it was huge for me to get that opportunity to work there and sit in that room and see news as it happens. Even though I was working on the magazine, I still was in the newsroom or near the newsroom, so I got to see all of that going on. So that is how my story kind of evolved to publication design and graphic design, and I call that my origin story.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s back up because you just took me through 20 years, so let’s back it up. I get the sense that definitely design was something that you were always into. Clearly you went into that with going into school. I want to hear about what the program was like at Morgan State because you were studying design. I guess this was right around maybe 2001, 2002-ish, something like that when you started?

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
I started in 2001, yes.

Maurice Cherry:
What was the design program like? Because I didn’t even know that… Again, I’m basing this off my experience with Morehouse, I didn’t know that any HBCUs even had design programs back then, so tell me what that program was like.

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
Yeah. Entering into that program, my first couple of years at Morgan I was taking general education classes, so I didn’t even get to the department until the end of my sophomore year or junior year. I didn’t really know what was going on, but when I got there, it was in bad shape. They had just let the building actually, and it was leaking and everyone was frustrated and the program didn’t have much money. It didn’t have a whole lot of support, and there weren’t enough professors teaching in it, so I walked into a department that was in chaos.
I think in 2003, they were moved to a brand new building. It’s called the Murphy Fine Arts Building. So, this was a state-of-the-art building, and it had a performance hall. Morgan is known for its choir. The choir is huge. They tour all over the world. People have successful careers as singers and musicians coming from the Morgan program, and so a lot of that building was built for that department. There were other two other departments there, the Theater Department and it was us, the Art Department.
And so our program was really focused. When you first enter in, they taught you the foundation. Even if you’re a graphic design major, you’re taking painting. You’re taking printmaking. You’re taking drawing. You’re taking a couple years of basic design. They want to really make sure that you get an understanding of how this was done before computers really took off, so that was the foundation there. So all of this stuff going on, they didn’t have money, and then they transitioned to this new building and it felt like a hallway in this huge building.
So although they weren’t in the position that they were in before, they were in a better position, they still weren’t where they needed to be. What the department did is they said, “We need to get a professor in here who knows about graphic design, who can come in here and build this department,” and so they hired a person named Joseph Ford. He worked on the campus previously in the Public Relations Department, so he had a hand in making sure that all of the publications that needed to go out, graduation, commencement, the Morgan Magazine, he was working on a lot of that. Any branding or logos that needed to be done, he was working on that.
But before he worked at Morgan, he had a successful career in advertising, and he also worked for TV stations doing graphic design for them, so he had an understanding of the campus, and he also had an understanding of the industry. He came to the department and really built the program, so those last couple years he was there, he was teaching basically almost all of the graphic design courses.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
Yeah. One professor, and he is really just amazing, what he did with that program. You come to him with a problem, and everybody’s there and they’re like, “Oh, we only got this hallway. We got this, that, and the other,” and he is hearing it, but he’s focused on making sure that this program and the students get what they need. So what he did was he had some friends in the industry, and he somehow connected them all, and he made a way where famous Black artists got together and they produced a poster for the department. The proceeds from selling this piece of original artwork, and they had print made of it, went to scholarships for students there. Then it went to bringing these particular artists to the university to speak to the students.
And so he was bringing these particular Black artists to the department, raising money. Really, he took the money out of his own pocket, but it’s the crazy things that professors do to make sure that students have what they need. He supplied everyone that was there with a scholarship to an AIGA membership, and so he gave that to them. He promoted all of the events that they were having at AIGA in Baltimore and the AIGA Nationals, and he really introduced us to the AIGA.
We had no idea what it was as students, and we would go to the particular programs. We got to know the president of the AIGA, he would come to the campus and support what we were doing there. He also had made a connection where the AIGA brought a conference to Morgan State University. I think it was like a portfolio review, and so we got our portfolios reviewed by people in industry. I remember Ellen Lupton was there, a bunch of other professional designers, and so he came up with all these innovative ways. He bootstrapped basically the Graphic Design Program while I was there and graduated.
When we look back on it, a lot of the students there have had successful careers in graphic design. I mean, some of the students have graduated. They work for the NBA. They work for Major League Baseball, doing design. They work for IBM, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun. [Ogilby 00:38:38] was included in that, but having their own businesses and doing a lot of things, so we really were a program that started from the bottom, but made something of it. Really didn’t have much, but made something out of the program/.
And I think I have to give my hat off to him and all the work that he did. I still speak to him a whole lot now, but I have to give him credit for it. The other professors there absolutely, but as far as graphic design is concerned, he was definitely instrumental in making sure that happened.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. So after you graduated, you talked a little bit about the Washington Post. You also talked a little bit about going back and working at Morgan State. Now also after school, you kind of ended up going back to school. You went to MICA for a while, and then you went to the University of Baltimore, which is eventually where you got your doctorate at. Kind of tell me about that time. What sparked that decision for you to decide to go back to school?

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
There were two points that I want to make. One was when I was early on in my career at Morgan, I remember one of the professors telling me that you could get a Doctorate in Design. I had no idea. So I think that sparked something in me as well because I was like, “Well, how far can you go in this career as far as education is concerned?”
The other piece is that the graphic design world, the design world, changed so much. Even throughout college and starting out, it was all about publications. I had a love for publications. And then publications started to fold, and the industry started to go digital. It was convergence, where news reporters were now writing the story, taking the photographs, and almost designing the stories at the same time. Multimedia journalists were coming about, and so I really said to myself, “I have to learn more.”
I never really grasped coding a website, and I wanted to learn more about that, so I had a Bachelor of Arts in graphic design and illustration, double major in both of them, and I wanted to learn more about the integration of design. So that’s why I looked at the University of Baltimore and their program.

Maurice Cherry:
And so as you were going through that program, I’m curious, was it much different from what you were learning at Morgan State? It’s kind of interesting you kind of started out at an HBCU and then went to a traditional art school with MICA, and then now to University of Baltimore. Was that a big shift, just education-wise?

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
It definitely was. So when I went to MICA, I was taking continuing studies courses. I just always had a love for learning. So after I graduated from Morgan, I automatically wanted to learn more, get better at my craft, and the best way I knew how to do that was to go back to school. I was taking digital illustration courses at MICA. Then I saw the program at the University of Baltimore, and they were one of the only programs at the time where you could get a Doctorate in Design. During that time, I think early on, it used to be a Doctorate of Communication Design.
That just brought so much together, what I was interested in with publication design, this integration of various forms of media and producing it, and seeing that program really attracted me to the University of Baltimore and the level of skills. So one of the first classes that you have to take at the University of Baltimore is a class about writing, so you have to write. You have to design the stories at the same time, so that’s challenging because they want your writing to be just as good as your design.
That’s what you talk about in the class, and that’s what you work on. The class was on a Saturday, early in the morning until in the afternoon, so it was a really long class, challenging subject. When I first got there, I really struggled with those first couple of classes because it was a different level. Not to say that the level of education that I got at Morgan wasn’t high, it was just different at the University of Baltimore. It was pulling different muscles, working different muscles in a different way.

Maurice Cherry:
And now you’re kind of in a rare echelon of Black design professionals with PhDs. Are there any other peers of yours that you work with or you do research with or anything like that?

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
Most of the time in the environments that I’m in or freelancing, people find out I have a Doctorate in Information Design, and they almost ask the question, “Why?” You may get an MFA, and that’s a terminal degree, but most people, they don’t think there’s a need for it, so it’s hard to understand the value of it. I think looking at the way that the different forms of media come together, and then adding a research perspective and understanding design research and understanding more about the user and pulling in these different disciplines, like psychology and anthropology and computer science, I feel like it puts you in a different class with all of those. You have more in your toolbox to add to the environments that you’re in, and so the peers that I have, sometimes I come into an environment and they’re like, “What are you doing here?” It’s like intimidation, depending on who I’m around.
In other environments, it’s like, “Let’s go. Let’s do this. Bring everything that you have. I’ll bring my skillset, and we can work together.” So the cohort of graduates, there are a couple of people that I still talk to that graduated from the program. There are people in the program now that I speak to. There are people in the industry, some people that you’ve had on this show, that could relate to just that level of education or that thirst for that education, so it’s a small cohort that’s growing.

Maurice Cherry:
When you look back at your career now, look back at the span of everything that you’ve done, what advice would you give to your 16-year-old self?

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
I would really say, “Be fearless. Just be fearless, and do it. Don’t be afraid of your own greatness.” I say that because I think about my career and how I walked into some situations timidly that I could have taken more advantage of, that I could have went all in and probably benefited more from it. So I think I would say that, “Be fearless.”

Maurice Cherry:
Speaking of that, if you knew that you couldn’t fail in your professional life, what would you try to do?

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
Wow. I would bring a whole bunch of different things together. I think I would just take all the energy that I have and put it into making sure that as many people who are interested in design in my city, in my sphere of influence, knew about it. They had opportunities. They had internships. They had mentors. They had apprenticeships. They had jobs. I think that’s what I would do. If I could just do anything, I would probably do what I’m doing, just at a higher level.

Maurice Cherry:
What does success look like for you now?

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
I think success, to me, looks like not just writing down the idea, but following through and putting action to it. If there’s success in it, great. If it’s successful, great. If it fails, I learn from it. So I think success is either it goes really, really well or I learn from it, and both of those are success for me.

Maurice Cherry:
What are some projects and things that you’re working on now?

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
So I’m really excited about a book. I talk a lot about the program that I grew out of at Morgan, and so I’m writing a book about that now, the Morgan story basically, and it’s called Design at a HBCU. It really tells my perspective of what went on there, and so I’m really, really excited about that. I just started my own studio, and so I’m at the beginning stages of building that. That’s called [LADS 00:48:00], and so I’m really excited about that, a studio practice.
Also, after I graduated from the University of Baltimore with my doctorate, one of the decisions I made was to start an endowment for Visual Arts students, and so far since graduation, we’ve raised about $10,000, and so I’m really excited about where we are now and I’m excited about growing that. So I think in the next five years, I’d love to see it reach $100,000. That would be awesome to me.

Maurice Cherry:
Overall, what’s the next step for you? What do you want the next chapter of your legacy to be?

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
I want it to be a growing a design studio and possibly entering academia full-time instead of part-time. I’m really thinking about that. So having a studio practice, interacting with academia on a regular basis, growing that scholarship fund, raising a family. I have two boys and a wife, so that’s important to me, making sure they get what they need and they grow, and just looking forward to the future.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to kind of wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you and about your work online?

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
So I’m available on LinkedIn under Dr. Perry Sweeper. You can find me there. You can find a website at www.psweeper.com. Send me an email. I’d love to talk to you.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well, Dr. Perry Sweeper, I want to thank you so much for coming on this show, and I want to just thank you for sharing your story about how you really got into design. I could tell it’s something that you’re super passionate about, and the fact that you’re able to also help to teach the next generation of designers and technologists.
You’re teaching in that department at Morehouse, but you’re able to kind of teach the next generation and take your love for design and pass it on to them so they can know that they can make their own mark on the world, just like you’ve made your mark on the world. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Dr. Perry Sweeper:
Yeah. Thanks for having me.

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