A Tribute to Paula Differding, Who Retired After 33 Years of Teaching at Herron

Paula Differding. Courtesy of Paula Differding

2018 has ended, marking both the conclusions of the fall semester and another calendar year. December 2018 also marked the end of an era with Associate Professor Paula Differding, who retired after 33 years of teaching visual communication design (VCD).

Over the decades, Differding has played an indelible role in shaping our VCD program and has transformed the lives of numerous Herron students. Though Differding will be missed, she will continue be a valued and esteemed member of the Herron community as Associate Professor Emerita, effective Jan. 1, 2019.

Here, Professor and Department Chair Eva Roberts shares a summary of Differding’s illustrious academic career, followed by a selection of praise from current students and alumni.

Paula Differding has had an exceptionally long relationship with Herron, one that began when she was a student. In 1979, she earned a second undergraduate degree, a BFA in visual communication that launched her award-winning professional career in Indianapolis. As her career advanced, she continued contact with Herron through students who worked under her guidance as design interns until 1985 when she was recruited to teach and joined the Herron faculty. She brought with her a deep commitment to foster professionalism in young designers. This remains her passion that promises to continue even in retirement.

Professor Differding was crucial in responding to the ever-evolving profession that is design and helped guide the program’s transition from a hands-on practice to one that is now dominated by digital technologies. She has worked continuously to develop curriculum during her decades of teaching and has been awarded development grants for her efforts by such programs as the Engaged Department Grant and the IUPUI–Near Westside Faculty Community Fellows. She has always dedicated her time and energy as a faculty member invested in the success of students and has been honored with the Harry Davis Teaching Award, the Trustees Teaching Award for Civic Engagement, and the Teaching Excellence Award from Indiana University.

She has taught virtually all of the students who have graduated from VCD. In doing so, she has given her caring support to thousands of students during her thirty-three years of teaching. Most telling perhaps is that she maintains contact with hundreds of her former students. As they depart for exciting futures, she tells them, “My class never ends.” Certainly, she has never stopped learning and growing as a teacher; and she is always welcoming of students, current or former, who seek her advice or just her kindness and bright smile.

In addition to teaching, professor Differding has served in many roles for the department, from director of the IRIS Center for Digital Arts (1996-2004) to coordinator of the department (1996-1998). Her service to the department, school, and university is extensive. She spent numerous years working at the university level on the Promotion and Tenure committee; she has worked extensively with community engaged projects and guided the design and production of work for non-profits ranging from IUPUI Urban Farm to AMPATH, IU Kenya.

Paula Differding in 1979 as a newly minted Herron graduate, who just won the prestigious Mademoiselle’s guest editor competition before spending the summer working at the magazine’s New York City headquarters on Park Avenue. Mademoiselle guest editor honorees include poet Sylvia Plath, Alice MacGraw, and author Joan Didion. IUPUI University Library Special Collections and Archives. © Trustees of Indiana University

Professor Differding is a truly special individual, who deeply values students and their success. She has been a warm and generous colleague whose energy will be missed.

“Paula was the teacher that convinced me to stay in design. She really encouraged my growth, and she helped me embrace the things that were special and quirky.” —Alyssa Hostetler, student

“The fact that Paula is lovingly known as ‘Momma P’ speaks to her natural inclination to care for others – students and colleagues alike. She is loved beyond words and will be missed immensely.” —Pamela Napier, assistant professor

“She made me feel welcome when I changed my major. She’s like the grandmother I never had. One time I mentioned that I liked unfrosted Pop-Tarts and from then on, she only brought in unfrosted Pop-Tarts. I also liked when she shared stories about her square husband and her ‘hippie’ self. She’s just super cool.” —Minh-Tri Dang, student

“She took such good care of us during our morning classes. She was super supportive and she always guided us through all of our projects. We all love her so much!” —Essence Jones, student

“I feel so lucky to [have worked] with Paula. I am so appreciative of not only the way she has shown a great positive attitude and motivation, but also her generosity with her time and resources. I want to thank her for all the support she’s shown me throughout my career at Herron, especially during our VC1 class, but more importantly … for her delicious apple pie.” —Gurkan Mihçi, assistant professor

“Last day pie giving… to the best colleague ever!” —Paula Differding, via Facebook on Dec. 10, 2018. Courtesy of Paula Differding

“She always made us apple pie. She is like everyone’s grandma.” —Lexy Britt, student

“Just being around Paula makes me excited. It gets me ready to start designing and thinking of new ways to explore different ideas. She made me glad to join the Herron community as well as her class.” —Jennifer Edwards, student

“I was lucky enough to be paired with Paula during my first year at Herron. In the weeks before classes started, she excitedly emailed me, wanting to set up a lunch so she could meet my family and help me get acquainted to the school and courses we’d be teaching. Ever since that day, she has acted as my guide through life at Herron and IUPUI. I always know that I can turn to her for support, wisdom, or critique. I learned a ton from her about how to run a classroom and be a good colleague. We’ll never truly be able to fill the void that she’s leaving in our classrooms and our everyday lives around Herron.” —Aaron Ganci, associate professor

“One day, Paula was running late to class. She later came in with grocery bags and said, ‘I brought bagels for everyone!’ She then put the bag in the other room in the kitchen. When I looked in the bag, I also saw some Pop-Tarts. Later on, I gave her a hug and told her it’s like the kids waiting for mom to come home from the grocery store. She always has special treats for us that we weren’t expecting.” —Romarie Quinones-Perez, student

“[We] used [to] call Paula the ‘VCD Mom’. She was always loving and caring and wanted to see her students do well. She always brought in treats for her students. For our professional practice class, a peer had some trouble with a client and she was in tears from the difficult project. Paula was there and able to comfort her.” —Steven Musngi (BFA ’09)

“I wish I had her for more semesters, not just one.” —Kaitlin Bundren, student

“Paula is one of the most generous and loving souls. She truly defines what it means to be a teacher. She is invested in every single one of her students which you don’t see often.” —Zachary Camp, student

“Her enthusiasm is contagious, she motivates us just with her presence, and she enables us to feel empowered.” —Taylor Harsch, student

Differding in 1984 at the Design Group, Inc., where she worked as senior art director and oversaw the Indianapolis design firm’s internship program. Courtesy of Paula Differding

“Paula is seriously the most passionate person ever. That’s what I love most about her. It makes it so easy to talk to her and open up about projects and life.” —Alyson Love, student

“I was in Paula’s very first class. I had a lot of professors that were conceptual-based, but Paula was very community-based. She took us around to different studios and vendors, and it took away a lot of the mystery. I just remember her always being super fun and friendly. Our first year, she took a polaroid of each student (one smiling and one silly) and would write their name on it in order to remember everyone. […] Sometime after junior year, I got an internship and was super excited about it. I told Paula where it was and she gave [it] a look and told me I could not work there. She ended up connecting me to someone else, which ended up being one of the best studios in town.” —Jim Sholly (BFA ’87)

“The first time Paula helped me was when I had to go to a friend’s funeral in the middle of the semester. She was just so supportive. Another time, she gave me the opportunity to pursue an internship that I really wanted that allowed me to also take care of my son, who has Down syndrome. It was one of the most wonderful memories I have of her.” —Bob Waite, student

“My favorite memory of Paula has to be when she drove me, Karli, and Katie to the Printing Partners fieldtrip for our print production class. We spent the whole ride talking about life and cracking jokes. It was just great to connect with her – not just as designers, but as friends.” —Kourtney Hedges, student

“I can’t even begin to say how much [Paula has] changed my life. [She] will always be my design mom. The most important duties of ‘design mom’ are to be there when your students cry, make amazing pie, push everyone to make their best work [and] DO MORE SKETCHES, and most importantly, always ask questions and never give up. [Paula is] the reason I survived in school. [She is] the reason I myself want to be a ‘design mom’ one day. They say that you don’t leave a legacy for someone, you leave it within someone. I hope to be half the woman [Paula is] and leave my legacy within as many people as I can because the legacy [she’s] left within me is one I will live with the rest of my life.” —Haley Francis-Halstead, student

Read the original article from Herron School of Art and Design’s Storie’s Page