Alijah Dillard

“Like most young boys I loved cars, likely, because my dad loved cars. We worked on them together and commented on the cool ones when they would pass by, and he shared that excitement with me,” said CCS alumnus and metro-Detroit native Alijah Dillard (’18, Transportation Design). “After I developed talent for drawing, my parents signed me up for the Continuing Education summer camp at CCS where I learned to love car design and making cars that I thought were cool.”

The summer arts camp that Dillard recalls so fondly — an early program of Community Arts Partnerships (CAP) at the College for Creative Studies — marked not only the beginning of his love of car design but also his appreciation for the power of mentorship and teaching.

His creative direction wasn’t always crystal clear, however. After high school, he spent two years studying art therapy at Marietta College. But he credits his mother with helping him to rekindle his passion for design, which eventually led him to CCS.

“I was unsure of my path,” Dillard recalled. “My mom, being the true champ, set up two interviews for me: one with someone who was working as an art therapist at University of Michigan and one with a car designer at Chrysler, as she knew that was a dream of mine as a child.” Meeting with the art therapist revived Dillard’s “love for my work with kids and those who have had trouble expressing themselves through conventional means.”

But the meeting with the car designer at Chrysler? It was a conversation with Ralph Gilles, a CCS alumnus, Trustee and, at the time, the automaker’s Head of Design.

“I was blown away. His charisma was infectious and the way he described design and the competition that went along with the field really resonated with me,” Dillard explained. “It was at that point that I shifted gears and returned home to pursue car design.”

Dillard received a merit scholarship to study Transportation Design at CCS and eventually became a teaching artist with Community Arts Partnerships — a deeply impactful experience. For 20 years, CAP has worked with neighborhood organizations to develop arts education systems for young people in Detroit.

As a teaching artist, Dillard worked all over metro Detroit “from Dearborn to Southwest, teaching everything from a one-on-one automotive clay sculpting intensive with an incoming CCS student to origami with a group of six-year-old kids.”

The work with CAP filled him with a sense of accomplishment. It was a way to make money for school and a way to give back to the community. But, mostly, it was work that he says helps young people develop a creative voice they’ll rely on for a lifetime.

In 2019, Dillard enrolled in the mobility design master’s program at Strate Ecole de Design in Paris, where he is learning more of the theory behind his hands-on training at CCS. “All of my time in Detroit gave me a solid technical foundation from which to grow as a designer in this environment. Where CCS teaches practical skills and focuses on the technical execution of one’s ideas, Strate focuses on design theory and the ideas themselves,” he said. “At the end of this degree, I appreciate the nuance of design and what makes something good design as opposed to just a nice render.” After graduation this year, Dillard plans to seek a design position in the industry and put the skills and ideas he has learned to the test. But he knows that, for him, the path will one day likely wind its way back to teaching, hopefully in higher education.

It’s a feeling he first confirmed at CAP — both in himself as a teaching artist and in his students, who saw an organization invest time and energy in their creativity. “I believe that young people need to not only explore the world without their parents but experience what it’s like to make a mark on it. CAP facilitates this.”