Dr. Rachel Schreiber is the New Executive Dean of Parsons School of Design
Throughout the past decade, Parsons School of Design has undergone a series of changes that have kept the school at the forefront of design education. The top-ranked art and design university has added new majors and programs, built the world-class Making Center, and partnered with leading brands and designers on collaborations that have resulted in innovative solutions for pressing problems.
Recently, Dr. Rachel Schreiber joined Parsons as the new Executive Dean, after Joel Towers’ 10-year tenure. A trained graphic designer, photographer, and gender historian with an MFA in Photography, Dr. Schreiber was most recently the Chief Academic Officer at the San Francisco Art Institute, and has taught and been an administrator at California College of the Arts, Maryland Institute College of Art, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and more.
“I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be an artist, so I did go to art school, and I worked as a designer,” says Schreiber. “I started teaching a few years out of school, and from that first class, I fell in love with teaching.”
As Dr. Schreiber continued to teach and practice, she also held a variety of administrative positions, where she discovered that she enjoyed the ability to create and shape programs, and find new ways to support faculty.
Dr. Schreiber was drawn to Parsons for a variety of reasons, including the school’s readiness to develop new programs, and the fact that it’s part of The New School, a comprehensive university. Now that she’s been in her new role for a few months, she’s quickly immersed herself in everything happening at Parsons, such as the launch of the MPS in Fashion Management program, Design Workshops at Governors Island, and the debut of a new executive education program with Macy’s.
“I think one of Parsons’ strengths is that it’s been able to be nimble in developing degree programs and majors that stay very relevant to the moment,” she says. “That’s part of what makes Parsons unique. There’s such a wealth of activity in programs and initiatives, and a real entrepreneurial spirit here.”
Dr. Schreiber is passionate about a number of issues, including the challenge of making art and design education more accessible and inclusive. She helped found the AICAD Post-Graduate Teaching Fellowship program, which aims to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of faculty in schools of art and design. She has also published on the subject in a wide range of publications, and spoken at national events. During the Festival of New, she will speak on a panel about equity and access in higher education, along with Nadia Williams, who leads the Parsons Scholars program.
“One of my ambitions for Parsons is finding ways to make this amazing education more available to a diverse group of students,” she says. “That’s a big, thorny, complicated problem we have in higher education, and in the U.S. in general. That fact that it’s a big complicated problem shouldn’t stop us from tackling it.”
She is also interested in continuing the Parsons mission of training students to address pressing problems with design solutions. She believes climate change and income inequality, among other issues, are prime examples of where designers can lend their interdisciplinary expertise to create positive change.
“We hear from employers that 21st century jobs demand creative problem-solving and critical thinking skills, even more so than knowledge of a particular software,” she says. “That’s good news for us, because we are training our students to be problem-solvers and critical thinkers.”
Dr. Schreiber is optimistic about the future of design education, and excited about the multi-disciplinary learning opportunities available to students throughout Parsons and The New School. She believes that as the programs in Parsons continue to evolve, there will be a shift to more flexible approaches to what design is and can be.
“Students at Parsons experience our prestigious, cutting-edge, high quality education, and they do so from within a world-class university that is devoted to social justice, social research, and more,” she says. “This is what makes the Parsons experience truly unique.”