Kelly Rouser is proud of her Beverly origins, and she attributes much of her success and inspiration to growing up in the Southwest Side neighborhood.
As luck would have it, Rouser’s parents, Kevin and Holly, found their first home in Beverly and moved in November of 1988, just 8 months before Rouser was born.
Rouser’s foundational start in education began early as a 3-year-old Montessori student at Beverly Montessori School. The Montessori environment fostered self-starting skills, independence and a curiosity for learning. Rouser fondly recalled being in the “Fireplace Room” under the excellent teachings of Grace Gee, Linda Bailey and Kathie Schneller. Rouser remembered being greeted each morning with the warm smiles of Virginia Maciulis, head of school, and Linda Budewitz, business manager.
After graduating from Beverly Montessori School in 1995, Rouser attended the Montessori program at Henry R. Clissold Elementary School. Her Montessori teachers and their assistants shaped and molded her love of learning. Mary Leonard (Jacqueline Feeley), Carol Kayton (Jackie Frantz), Robert Cahill (Jackie Frantz) and Patricia Ronan (Patty Westcott) demonstrated an excellence in teaching for which Rouser will be forever grateful.
Rouser’s early exposure to art under art teachers including Ethel Wirtshafter of the Vanderpoel Art Association and Clissold art teacher Katherine Kampf, instilled in her a desire to become a professional artist one day.
Rouser attended Whitney M. Young Magnet High School where she took her first art class, taught by Ms. Zayat.
Rouser continued with her art at Whitney Young, enrolling in honors printmaking and mixed media; the latter of which led her to an interest in sculpture.
During her senior year in high school, Rouser took AP Sculpture through the Gallery 37 Advanced Arts Education Program. There, she received a broad survey of how to create sculpture using different materials and techniques, such as wax casting, sculpting in clay, wax and soap carving, papier-mache and creating sculptures out of nontraditional materials and mixed media. In this class, she also learned how to create and document a body of work for portfolio submission, a skill that was beneficial for her later in her education.
Rouser’s service learning activities were fueled by her love of music and art. She studied under her beloved Beverly piano teacher, Julia Sitner, and later studied viola with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra Youth Concert Orchestra and piano and viola with the Merit School of Music Conservatory in the West Loop.
During her final year of high school, Rouser served residents at the Smith Village, where she taught an introductory art class. It was through this class that she met and befriended Thomas Miller, one of the first professional African-American graphic designers. Miller was also a visual artist. His beautiful mosaic work is installed at the DuSable Museum of African-American History.
Rouser was also part of the Windy City Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, a civic and service organization from which she won the Mid-Western region’s Outstanding Senior Competition, based on her accomplishments in academics, service, art and music.
She graduated in the top 10 percent of her class of 545 graduates at Whitney Young in 2007 with 641 service learning hours.
Rouser was accepted during the early-decision admission process to Princeton University. There, she declared her major in art history and studied in the Princeton Department of Art and Archeology. Her education was comprised of a combination of several visual arts classes, (including drawing and painting, sculpture and advanced studio-installation), and a broad survey of art history and archeology courses. It was through these visual arts courses that Rouser continued to develop an interest in creating sculptural forms.
While at Princeton, she became her residential college’s art studio monitor, and she taught art classes on Saturdays to fellow undergraduates and was later featured in The Daily Princetonian for doing so. During the summer after her freshman year, she returned to Gallery 37 to work as an intern and teaching assistant for the nontraditional sculpture course taught in Gallery 37’s downtown Afterschool Matters program. She also participated in organizing the Greening Princeton: “Eco-Conscious Fashion Contest” and was mentioned on Princeton University’s website, in addition to being featured in an article in The Huffington Post.
During the summer of 2010, Rouser studied abroad in Paris through Yale College’s Summer Session, where she lived with a host family and became proficient in French. The 300-level French literature course taught at Cite Universitaire, counted toward her requirements to receive a minor in French. On May 31, 2011, she graduated from Princeton with an AB in art history and with certificates in French language and culture and African-American studies.
After Rouser graduated from Princeton, she fulfilled a biomedical research internship at the University of Chicago Hospitals, where she contributed findings to a paper that was published in U.S. Biochemical Journal. While she was completing laboratory procedures, she started to think in terms of how improving already existing products would best serve people. This led to her early work in product development and design.
Rouser sought to design what would become her first patented idea: an accessory for a technological product. During the development of her design, she realized she was developing two ideas for patent consideration. She subsequently filed for two U.S. design patents and received notice in less than one year that both of her patents were issued. After much research, she located and hired a rapid prototyping product development company to realize one of her two patented designs: an educational accessory for a technological product.
Rouser was curious to learn about the process of marketing, pitching, licensing and venturing products. She studied under a company regarding all things related to bringing a product to market. During this time, she held a full-time job while further developing other product ideas and designing marketing materials such as product sell sheets and product videos.
She recruited family, friends and neighbors as “actors” in her product videos and is very thankful for their time and support.
In her quest for knowledge, Rouser took continuing studies classes through the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), to study computer-aided drafting, architectural 2D drafting, 3D modeling and digital fabrication techniques (such as laser cutting and 3D printing). As a result, she was further inspired to create product ideas and prototypes for products in the areas of office, home goods and travel accessories.
Rouser began making product prototypes for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. Because she excelled in mathematics and science during her academic career, she realized the need for the introduction of STEM education as early as possible in a student’s life. The educational STEM product that she has developed is designed for children from kindergarten through 12th grade. Her product goal is to help increase and enhance a student’s interest in STEM education by taking the fear out of learning STEM and by making it fun.
During the winter of 2016, Rouser entered the 21st Century Fox/ PepsiCo’s “Search for Hidden Figures” competition and finished as a semi-finalist after having submitted two essays and a video promoting her STEM educational product.
The more Rouser learned about product development and design, the more she felt a need for a formal education in this field of study. She researched top design schools on the West Coast after wanting a different “school of thought” from that of her East Coast Ivy League undergraduate education.
She applied to and was accepted to the master of fine arts (MFA) in design program at California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco. This graduate program is interdisciplinary in nature, as it offers students graduate study in industrial design, graphic design and interaction design. She chose to pursue industrial design.
She learned some of the following academic, technical and hand skills at CCA: drawing, laser cutting, using a CNC router, 3D modeling using Rhino software, rendering using Keyshot software, model making, rapid prototyping, 3D printing, silicone mold making, casting in polyurethane and epoxy resins; proficiency in Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign; design writing, design criticism, drafting presentations in Adobe InDesign and Google Slides; creating startup marketing plans, generative design, social design, graphic design; disassembling simple machines, industrial sewing, extruding plastic, researching manufacturing methods and materials, die-cut extruding clay, glassware design, furniture design; scholarly thesis study, and creation and design of a printed and bound thesis book.
One of her most important “takeaways” was “how to think outside of the box” as she learned conceptual design as opposed to utilizing a “product-driven” approach. She further learned the importance of free exchange of ideas and collaboration with classmates, as well as how to persevere when the workload became overwhelming.
In addition to being a full-time student, Rouser also held three to four work-study jobs at various times during her final four semesters. She worked as Saturday supervisor and gallery monitor for the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. She also served as a physics and art history academic coach for the Wattis Learning Resource Center and was a graduate student ambassador for the enrollment services office.
Rouser was also involved as a mentor to students of the college in various capacities. One of her responsibilities at Wattis was scholarly in nature as she was asked to produce original artwork and an essay as a response to artist Lydia Ourahmane’s exhibition entitled, “Solar Cry.” The essay and artwork have been published on the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts Library website.
Rouser graduated from California College of the Arts with an MFA in design on May 16. Her thesis is entitled “Tools of Agency for Urban Players.” Moved by the preponderance of homelessness in San Francisco, she was inspired to dedicate her thesis to the encouragement of inclusivity of all “urban players” from an anthropological perspective.
Newly armed with her MFA, Rouser is in the process of applying for design positions. She will be studying online for a Certificate in User Experience Design with Cornell University starting in July.
Rouser currently does freelance industrial design work and plans to license her products in the near future.