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Released June 18, 2004

By David Tisdale

HATTIESBURG -- Donna Aldridge stared in disbelief as art professor Dr. Jim Meade of The University of Southern Mississippi showed her midway through the fall semester of 1987 the grade she was making in his painting class.


"I was humiliated and shocked," Aldridge said. "I was really embarrassed."

Prior to attending Southern Miss, Aldridge had breezed through her art classes in elementary and high school, never making below an "A." Her artwork won awards, and she was the obvious choice when elected president of the Hattiesburg High School Art Club. She had enjoyed the benefits of art lessons as a child, and the encouragement of her parents.

Then, in Meade's class, she was faced with a choice. "He (Meade) said 'I know you're better than this.'"

Up to that point, Aldridge said, she thought her performance was, at the very least, up to par with what was expected in college. "Everything had been so great before, but at the time I just didn't realize that I hadn't really gotten serious about my work," she said. "I just thought, 'Geesh, I've really got to figure out what to do.' I began to realize that I just wasn't focused. I just made the decision to get serious about it and take a long look at myself and figure out how I was going to change."

Aldridge rededicated herself to her craft, and today is a successful graphic designer with David Carter Design in Dallas. And she's still making the grade, so to speak. This past February, her advertising design project for one of David Carter's clients, Lajitas, The Ultimate Hideout--a resort in the Big Bend, Texas, area--took one of the top awards at the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International's awards ceremony in New York City.

In stark contrast to her "D" in Meade's class, the award she received at the HSMAI ceremony - the Adrian Award - is, appropriately, in the shape of the letter "A."

Judged among approximately 1,500 entries from around the world, her project, which included a brochure, sales kit and collateral materials, also received two gold awards and one silver at the ceremony. The HSMAI competition is the largest travel-related design competition of its kind in the world.

Meade isn't surprised at Aldridge's success. "Our job, as faculty, is to get them to reach the next level, from amateur to professional," he said. "Sometimes, you have a moment of truth, like she did, to decide whether to reach that next level. I believed at the time that she had the potential, and obviously she did."

Even as a professional, Aldridge still enjoys art as an expression of herself, blending her passion with the needs of her clients. "It's fun, continuous fun," said Aldridge, who joined Carter's firm in 2000. "What I enjoy about it is trying to come up with a successful solution, graphically, to a problem; that is, how can I, through color, typography, visuals - all those elements - create something that communicates the essence of my client, what they are and what they want to portray. It's also very satisfying to be able to design something that makes a client happy and then gets them recognition."

Though she's thrilled with her award and the attention it has brought to her employer, any personal gain comes second to the customer's needs. "It's only a success if it's a success for the client," she said.

Not surprisingly, her boss is equally thrilled and considers it a success, not only with Aldridge's award, but also to have her on his team. "I like working with her, and I know everyone else in the studio agrees," Carter said. "She is one of the most creative designers I've worked with. Lajitas, the Ultimate Hideout--the project she has won numerous awards for--is just one example of her creativity. Even though Lajitas is fresh in many minds, she easily moves on to the next project without missing a beat."

Aldridge is also working on a packaging project in Bangkok, Thailand, for a newly created international spa company called "CHI."

Carter plans on keeping his award-winning employee busy. "In order to keep her from any normal family and friends contact, we also asked her to design a 16-page brochure for a newly opened hotel and spa on San Antonio's Riverwalk," Carter said.

Aldridge's success is proof that a person can make a career out of something they enjoy doing, said Dr. Vicki Bodenhammer, director of the Mississippi School of the Arts in Brookhaven and one of Aldridge's former art teachers at Hattiesburg High.

"When I think of Donna, I remember a dedicated student who was not afraid to follow her dream of becoming an artist, especially in a time when seeking a career in the arts was not necessarily considered a viable option for gainful employment," Bodenhammer said. "I would be delighted to hang one of her works here in our permanent collection (at the Mississippi School of the Arts) as an example of quality Mississippi artists."


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June 21, 2004 1:52 PM