Local native returns to roots to help Lakeland students
Note: Tayler Otten, a senior majoring in English and creative writing, is creating content for the Lakeland blog, as well as the social media pages for Lakeland’s School of Humanities & Fine Arts. This is the latest in a series of blog stories she’s written.
Having grown up in nearby Sheboygan, Wis., Katherine Prange understood the struggle to find opportunities in graphic design near home. Her success professionally after leaving Sheboygan has led her back to her roots to help the next generation of designers.
Prange, Lakeland University’s newest assistant professor of graphic design, returned to Sheboygan County for the opportunity to help students from smaller communities determine their career goals and acquire the skills and connections to pursue them.
After high school in Sheboygan, Prange moved to Milwaukee, Wis., to pursue her passion for art at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. Building her portfolio at the prestigious private school, Prange felt she was on track to finding her future career. Unfortunately, that came to a brief halt when the house she was staying in with two other students blew up, taking her valued art portfolio built from two years of art school with it.
Despite this staggering setback, Prange decided to take life’s challenges in stride, moving on to UW-Milwaukee to pursue a degree in visual communications. This change in course unexpectedly drew her close to home when she got a job at Sheboygan’s John Michael Kohler Arts Center right out of college.
It was there that she made a strong connection with the late Ruth DeYoung Kohler, a visionary and champion of under-recognized artists and art forms who served as director of the JMKAC. Kohler influenced Prange’s art in many ways.
“She was always very open to my big ideas” Prange shared about Kohler, “and when I would pitch them to her, she would often belly laugh, they were so outrageous! I've always wanted to thank her for providing me with the opportunity to work at the JMKAC and giving me my start. If I hadn't worked with her, I don't think I would've had many of the opportunities that I did moving forward in my career. She was a trailblazer for women in the art world."
After finding her start at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Prange went back to Milwaukee and a role at Hanson Dodge, an advertising agency. It was there that Prange worked her way from designer to director over the course of 15 years. Although she did not enjoy the managerial aspects of her job, she looks back on the experience as a useful real-world example to teach her students.
Racking up an impressive resume including jobs at John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Hanson Dodge and Jacobson Rost (working on brands such as Leinenkugel's, Kraft, and Culvers), Prange cites her work creating the Chemo Pod as her greatest achievement. Inspired by her best friend who died of Multiple Myeloma in 2016, Prange worked to create a space in which chemo patients could escape from the reality that plagued them.
“I saw her through 10 years of chemo and stem cell transplants,” Prange recalled. “We worked on the Chemo Pod concept together while she was in treatment. This was her vision.
“The Chemo Pod is an immersive simulated climate-controlled environment that focuses on connecting the chemotherapy patient's mind and body to promote healing,” Prange further explained. “That process not only helped her find something to do with her mind, but me as well; it was therapeutic for both of us. The idea that I could help her in some way because often I would feel helpless."
Prange continues her work in empathy and art as she works with her students at Lakeland. Now back in her native Sheboygan County, Prange hopes to connect her students to opportunities near and far. Through her connections, Prange wants to ensure that each student, through hard work and dedication, can pursue the career they desire.
Learn more about Prange’s career at her website: https://k8prange.com/.