General Motors Lauds Academy's School of Industrial Design


GM meets with Dr. Elisa Stephens at the Academy of Art University Automobile Museum. (L–R) Nan Yu, Sculptor, GM Advance Concept Center, California AAU Alum; Dr. Elisa Stephens; Travis Campbell, Sculpting Group Manager, GM Design Center, Warren, MI; Heidi M. Bliss, Creative Talent Recruiter, GM Global Design, Warren MI; Executive Director of the School of Industrial Design Tom Matano. Photo by Bob Toy.

This past December, representatives from General Motors visited Academy of Art University’s School of Industrial Design for one-on-one student portfolio reviews. GM was so impressed by the student work, that they offered three Academy students contract positions to work at the General Motors Design Center in Warren, Michigan. Two students accepted the offer for clay sculpting positions and the third accepted an offer for a digital modeling position.

“Without a doubt, I can honestly state that the visit exceeded my expectations,” said Travis Campbell, sculpting group manager for the Global Architecture Studio at the General Motors Design Center. 

“The students were clearly well prepared and represented their work and the institution with true professionalism,” he said. “One thing that resonated with me was the overall consistency with the quality and volume of the student work.” 

Executive Director of the School of Industrial Design Tom Matano and Associate Director Antonio Borja, led Campbell on a tour of the industrial design facility and met with Academy of Art University President Dr. Elisa Stephens to view the school’s private collection of antique automobiles. “The tour left me with an impression that the environment was highly nurturing and supportive of the students,” said Campbell.

Matano, who has been teaching at the Academy for 13 years has developed relationships over the years with the heads of design teams for companies like GM, with facilities around the globe. He attends design shows several times a year like the Eyes On Design Awards where he recently served as a judge. The Eyes On Design Awards are the officially sanctioned design awards for the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). They honor the best production and concept vehicles making their worldwide auto show debut in Detroit. 

“By doing that we have a good exposure, and any internship and sponsorship is nurtured that way,” said Matano. “Of course our school has to deliver, and I think we are delivering more and more.”


Academy students are known for their teamwork. The School of Industrial Design emphasizes teamwork in as many opportunities as possible. For instance at the senior level, if the goal is to become a clay modeler, they have to team with a designer. 

“So when they get to the job they know how to communicate,” said Matano. “That’s been one of the main successes in making the clay modeling students get the job.” 

“It’s evident through examples of student work that the industrial design faculty is running a successful program,” said Campbell, who was impressed with the variety of work presented by the students.  “It further reinforced my feeling that each student is receiving tailored instruction, allowing them to develop within their specific areas of interest and strength.”

In Campbell’s experience, there are few institutions that effectively cater to the needs and unique strengths of each student. “It is for that reason that I feel AAU is producing students who are truly prepared to enter a professional work environment.” 

Based on his recent visit to the Academy campus, Campbell said he has even encouraged his own daughter to consider applying.