Nineteen years is a long time.
However, sometimes it feels like it goes by in seconds.
That was the sentiment of Yuan Pan, a graphic design professor and the department chair of art and design, when asked about his time at Keene State College. Pan recently announced that this would be his last semester at Keene State after accepting the position back in 2002.
Pan became a professor at Keene after receiving his Master’s of Fine Arts (MFA) in Digital Art from Memphis College of Art in Tennessee. Pan explained that after living and working in big cities his entire life, the idea of a small New England town was attractive to him. He said that the desire to get away from big cities increased even more after witnessing 9/11.
“9/11 happened in 2001, and I was there,” said Pan. “I was right in front of the twin towers and I witnessed everything. I witnessed the whole chaos caused by 9/11… I wanted to get out of New York City and it was not an experience that I wanted to live with. So, when Keene State gave me the job offer I said ‘Okay, I’ll take it’.”
Pan said that he had not intended to stay at Keene State for more than a few years when he first accepted the position, however as the years went on his love for the college grew.
“I did not plan on staying for very long, but I actually ended up there for 19 years,” said Pan. “That’s a testimony of how much I enjoyed working here and how much I have learned. The last 19 years went by so quickly and sometimes I felt like I just got here.”
Pan came to Keene after practicing his craft all over the world. In 1995 he received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from the Yunnan Art Institute in China and became an assistant professor of design at the Yunnan Polytechnic University from 1995 to 1999. Pan then earned his MFA in Digital Arts in 2002 after studying at Auckland University in New Zealand, Memphis College of Arts in Tennessee and finally Parsons School of Design.
“When I came to Keene, the graphic design program here was a very traditional program,” said Pan. “It was pretty much print based… and at the time one of the main goals was for me to develop media and develop graphic design practice in new media, like web design, interactive multimedia, animation.”
Robert Kostick, an associate professor of graphic design at Keene State College, explained just how much Pan has done for the school.
“Early on, about 20 years ago, the graphic design industry looked a little bit different than it does today,” explained Kostick. “With his particular skill set in web design when he first started, he was really hired to do a lot of that web design. Then web design evolved into motion design and now motion design is evolving into illustration and animation and such. [He was] really the fingers on the pulse of the future of the industry and brought a lot of that attention and focus and offered that skill set to our students who benefited and continue to benefit beyond graduation.”
Pan explained that his decision to leave Keene State was a hard one, however it came from a combination of factors, one of which was his own curiosity as an artist.
“19 years is a long time and I feel that there’s always an itching side of me, wondering, ‘if I don’t teach, what else can I do?’,” said Pan. “I was in the industry before I came to Keene and it’s always in my blood. I enjoy teaching very much but I have always had this desire to devote myself to design and art full time.”
Pan explained that the second factor came into play last year when Keene State College asked the Art and Design department to reduce their number of faculty.
“The art and design department was asked to reduce one faculty,” explained Pan. “I didn’t think that much last year when they announced that, but over time, this winter break, I talked to some friends, some colleagues [and] it became clear to me that maybe this is the time for me to exit. I have other colleagues who probably need this job more than I do. So, I volunteered.”
Pan said that his choice was accepted by the school and his colleagues, however that does not make leaving any easier. He explained that his favorite memories in his 19 years are with his students, both past and present.
“My favorite moments are with my students… I put a lot of effort into my teaching,” said Pan with a smile on his face. “I love teaching, I love interacting with my students. Over the years I have formed a very strong bond with my students. A lot of them are Facebook friends with me so we keep in touch and I have students who graduated in 2004, 2005 and we are still good friends today. They keep me updated on what they are doing.”
Current graphic design students did not hesitate to share how much Pan helped them throughout their college experiences and how much he will be missed as a member of faculty.
“I never had [Professor] Pan as an instructor, but I met with him many times as an advisor,” said Keene State junior graphic design and studio arts major Madison Lechlider in an email interview. “He was always very warm and welcoming. When I first transferred to Keene State, he was one person that I felt like truly cared about my transition and he even took the time to ask how I was doing personally. Although I didn’t get to spend a ton of time with him, he felt like a mentor to me and I was looking forward to being in class with him. I could look to him for advising decisions but also for a conversation that grounded me in general. I’m truly upset that I won’t be able to have him as my advisor or professor for my final year at Keene State, he will be greatly missed.”
“Professor Yuan Pan has never been just focused on the technical aspects of learning a software,” said Keene State senior graphic design major Valentina Nardini in an email interview. “And this is exactly what I like [about] his teaching style. Creating sketches and bringing ideas is essential starting to work on an animation. In class, he brought his knowledge, experience, and passion. And these two last elements are the ones that really helped me to feel involved in projects as well as connected to the meaning of design.”
Kostick, who started at Keene State one year before Pan was hired, said that he would miss having Pan as a colleague and friend within the department.
“What am I going to miss the most? A sense of companionship that we have had,” said Kostick. “Passing each other in the hallway, knowing he’s always going to be there, thinking he’s always going to be there. Clearly that’s not the case, so I feel like there’s going to be a bit of a loss.”
As for what the future holds for Yuan Pan, he says he is not worried about running out of things to do.
“I have been working on a couple illustration books and they have been pretty successful,” explained Pan. “One of the books won a prestigious award at Bologna International Book Festival and it got published in Denmark. So, I want to develop more books, more children’s books, and I have some art and design projects I am eager to develop on my own.”
Pan also explained that he wants to experiment with the use of Computer Numerical Control (CNC) to create ceramic tiles.
“I’m thinking about developing some ceramic tiles. I know it’s odd,” laughed Pan. “I’m very interested in combining different technologies together. So this ceramic tile… I won’t be approaching it in a traditional pottery sense and I’m thinking about approaching from a digital angle. So I will be using a CNC machine… it’s like a 3D printer… CNC is short for Computer Numerical Control, so you can use it to cut high precision modules, so I am going to use that to make tiles.”
Pan said that the choice to leave Keene State College was a hard one, however he could not thank the school enough for helping him grow and develop as a professor and a person.
“I was born and raised in China, so Keene State [and] the job really trained me as a professor. Teaching was my second language,” said Pan.
Updated on April 16, 2021
Claire Boughton can be contacted at: