Excerpt from Program Booklet for Gala Event
When Judy Ellis founded the baccalaureate program in Toy Design at FIT in 1989, there was literally nothing like it. Fun and games aside, toy design is one of the most complex and challenging professions, encompassing fields as diverse as illustration, child psychology, and mechanical engineering. To create a program that ably prepared students in these disciplines, all while nurturing their creativity and social responsibility, was a daunting task. But as department chairperson for 16 successful years, Judy has overseen the education of skilled and innovative toy designers whose work exceeds the highest technical, ethical, and aesthetic standards.
Judy earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in communication design from Parsons School of Design, where she taught communication, environmental, and exhibit design from 1977 to 1984. As founder of her own consulting company, Graphics for the Environment, she has worked with clients including Clairol, IBM, and Amerada Hess (now the Hess Corporation). As a designer for Chermayeff & Geismar, the renowned environmental and exhibit design studio, she created an award-winning, permanent bicentennial exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution, along with large-scale murals for IBM.
It was in 1986, while teaching at FIT, that Judy first became involved in toy design. Asked to serve as project director for a toy design competition sponsored by Mattel, Inc., and the college's Educational Foundation for the Fashion Industries, Judy assembled teams of students from a wide range of FIT majors and enlisted outside consultants to help with prototype construction. When she approached the Toy Manufacturers Association (now the Toy Industry Association) for information on child development, they in turn proposed the creation of a toy design program. With FIT and the TMA's help, Judy put together an advisory board of toy industry leaders, developed courses and planned their sequence, and recruited faculty from the many branches of the profession. Three years after the Mattel project, Toy Design was launched, with an inaugural class of 18. In 1990, only a year into the program's existence, Judy introduced Discover Together, directly involving Toy Design students with children through educational partnerships with a Head Start day care center and Harlem-area elementary schools.
As department chairperson, Judy continues to shape every aspect of Toy Design at FIT. A dedicated teacher with a humanistic view, she emphasizes the close relationship between toy design and storytelling while upholding a commitment to socially responsible design. As an advocate for advancement in the field, she maintains a high visibility in both academia and the industry at large. Judy is the only person ever to have received two State University of New York Chancellor's Awards for Excellence -- one for teaching, and the other for faculty service. She is a frequent host and moderator of symposia at the American International Toy Fair in New York City, and has spoken at the Yale University Inter-Disciplinary Bioethics Program. She has served on the board of trustees of the USA Toy Library Association and the advisory council of the WNET/Thirteen Student Arts Festival. In 2001, she was honored for her achievements by Women in Toys, with their WITTY Award.
FIT and the Educational Foundation for the Fashion Industries are proud to honor Judy Ellis for her profound and ongoing contributions to toy design and the toy industry.