Hal Meeks Leads Students to Explore Animation Through Design Camp
By Stuart Hall
For as long as Hal Meeks can recall, he’s had a passion to tinker.
“I was doing a lot of things that you’re supposed to do as a designer,” said Meeks, 60, whose father was an engineer and mother was an avid painter. “I got it from them and I always making things. I was a critical thinker, but I really wasn’t thinking that way.”
Meeks, who earned his undergraduate (1985, BA Speech Communications) and Master’s (2011, Art + Design) degrees and is currently working toward his PhD. (Communication, Rhetoric and Digital Media) from NC State University, has also had a fascination with education.
“I have been interested in education my entire life,” said Meeks, who also worked for NC State’s Office of Information Technology in a number of capacities through the years. “The main reason why I work at a university is because I like being in an educational environment and I like being around other people who are interested in learning. I love sharing my enthusiasm for education with other people. It’s always been a keen interest of mine.”
As an undergraduate, Meeks thought he might one day go into public education. He also had some friends who were in the College of Design and was envious. “I loved the place, but I thought I’m not really a designer,” he said.
So Meeks took a different career path. A few years later, he stood in line to order food with a friend, who was in the university’s graphic design program. The topic of design was being discussed.
“I said, ‘You know, I am not really a graphic designer,’ and he said ‘Hal, you have spent a lot of time telling me what you are not.’ I was like ‘Oh my god, he’s right.’ So I applied to the Master’s program and I got in. It was a big shock for me. It really was a dream come true.”
In 2008, curiosity and curriculum converged. Meeks was pursuing his Master’s degree and there were discussions about how the Art + Design program could be involved with NC State Design Lab’s Design Camp. Meeks was part of a collaborative effort that pitched the idea of doing animation and, later, stop motion animation.
Design Camp, which will celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2020, allows middle (rising sixth through eighth graders) and high (rising ninth through 11th graders) school students to study five design disciplines — art + design, graphic, architecture, landscape architecture and industrial. Two week-long day camps for middle and high school students and two week-long residential camps for rising high school juniors and seniors are offered each summer.
“A lot of students come into it thinking they might like to make architecture their future, but they don’t have a lot of exposure to the other [disciplines] in high school,” Meeks said. “So Design Camp gives them the opportunity to get some exposure, to work with some faculty and other students who have similar interests as theirs. It’s an opportunity to get their feet wet.”
The projects produced by the students in all of the disciplines are “phenomenal and amazing,” said Meeks, who does not hide his enthusiasm for the students’ critical thought and creative design process. “I know that may sound so cliché, but it really is. You won’t believe what these students are able to create in a day. It blows me away sometimes. And that is immensely rewarding for me because I just love sharing with the students.”
About five years ago, Meeks began having students work together in pairs. He believes the summer camp atmosphere ignites quicker bonds among students, even among those from different backgrounds and locations. In turn, students organically blend their respective skillsets to collaborate on stronger projects.
At the end of a week that Meeks describes as a “blur of activity,” students, parents and faculty get to see the various projects.
“It really is like Christmas morning,” he said. “You have students in your class and you see what they’ve done and it’s awesome. Then you walk over to another studio and you see what those students have done and you’re like ‘Oh my gosh.’ Then you begin to realize how much they are capable of and that they can go in so many different directions.”
Meeks is evidence of that fact.