The art of learning and the learning of art. This was the unique discovery made by Braelyn Ross while she was a student in graphic design at OBU. She found her passion through studies in this field and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in graphic design in 2018.
Ross, who came to OBU from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, continued her family’s legacy on Bison Hill. “I grew up with OBU. Much of my family attended there,” she explained. “When I came to visit campus in high school, it felt like home. I am incredibly thankful for my time there. It set me on course for where I am today.”
Now living in North Carolina with her husband, Ross works as art director for The Church Initiative. It is an organization that produces a vast array of materials and resources for over 30,000 churches worldwide, equipping lay volunteers for Christ-centered support group ministry. She also has a side hustle called By Brae Designs where she completes custom orders and gifts utilizing her artistic gifts in illustration, hand lettering graphics, logo design and more.
However, well before landing where she is today, Ross recalls her early days on Bison Hill. She was uncertain of her field of study and it was a time of searching for a career major that was the best fit. Her first year as a college student was spent exploring and evaluating options.
After hearing of students’ experiences in graphic design, it perked Ross’ interest in that field. What added to her consideration was the experience and enjoyment of painting in her spare time. It was a side hobby to make extra money. Though she was a creative at heart, the realm of painting and that of graphic layout and design seemed to require different skills.
“It was an enormous leap of faith for me to step into the graphic design program,” she recalled. “I had not taken any graphic-related classes in high school and really had no knowledge base. However, the small class size and the wonderful encouragement of professors like Corey Fuller and others made a huge difference. I was welcomed into the program and provided with excellent instruction. Most importantly, I finally found the area of learning I was passionate about!” she said.
According to Ross, most of her time at OBU was focused around her graphic design work. During her senior year, she married Ryan Ross, who was graduating from OBU with a degree in pastoral studies from Hobbs School of Theology and Ministry. He served on staff at a church in Oklahoma City for the next year while she completed her degree at OBU.
“I was very focused on learning graphic design and I actually saturated myself in the process. I didn’t realize you could actually ‘learn’ how to draw. Discovering concepts like values, shapes, lines, colors all taught me to look at things differently in the design world,” she said. “Another great benefit was the one-on-one instruction in the labs. That personal attention was invaluable. The faculty took an interest in me, provided honest feedback, and pushed me to excel. I learned to receive their helpful and constructive critique which further developed my craft. The ability to receive critique is an important attribute for me to have as a working professional today,” she said.
Fuller, OBU chair of art and design and professor of graphic design, recalls Ross as a student. “Braelyn was a wonderful student to have in class. She possesses a natural eye for design that's quite valuable and difficult to teach. She really excelled with hand-lettering and made that a focus of her work post-graduation. Braelyn is the embodiment of what we desire for our graduates—a committed Christian stewarding her God-given talents,” he said.
Ross says the discipline of graphic design involves a lot of problem solving. She explained, “When initiating a project, I ask myself, ‘how do I take all of this information and make it visually appealing to the reader so that they see its entirety and receive the message?’ It is my job to navigate the elements of text, logos and graphics into a form that ensures the audience observes all the information in an effective and useful manner. It is also important for the work to be pleasing to one’s eyes.”
In addition to the program courses in graphic design, Ross says that the overall education at OBU helped her to become a more well-rounded person. Her liberal arts studies provided a solid foundation of learning that promoted critical thinking, exploration and enrichment. Classes such as Old Testament and New Testament were challenging, but expanded her heart and mind in ways that helped her grow as a person and in her walk with the Lord.
“I was encouraged to live my life for the glory of God in so many of my experiences at OBU. It is a special place and I am very grateful for the time I was there. It definitely changed me and helped me grow in my faith.”
Today, the Rosses are both utilizing their education from OBU in the world around them. Ryan continued his ministry training at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina where he received his Master of Divinity and is now pursuing his Ph.D. He is serving as the pastor of discipleship at a church in Fayetteville, N.C.
Braelyn is using her talents to help produce the majority of art for the materials, resources, and information to advance the message and mission of The Church Initiative. She also finds great satisfaction in servicing the design needs of customers and clients through By Brae Designs. Ross explained, “I started this endeavor because I love bringing people joy. Whether that’s with a custom illustration that speaks to one’s soul, a logo design that offers a business an identity, or a hand-lettered sign that will be cherished for a lifetime—I am in it for the joy of others.”
When asked what she feels defines a future shaper, Ross said, “An OBU future shaper is a person who is shaped and molded to go out and make a difference in the world for the glory of God, while loving people along the way.”
Ross’ view of shaping the future is one to consider and put into practice, much like the art of learning.