Brigham Young University senior Spencer Nugent is about to complete a journey that took him from his native Bog Walk, Jamaica, to a national awards ceremony in San Francisco last month, to his graduation from BYU this December. In doing so he'll fulfill an audacious goal his father set more than three decades ago.
Nugent's designs for General Motors and Intel helped him win a scholarship awarded annually by the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) to the top two undergraduates in the field. And he will be the fifth of Victor and Verna Nugent's five children to graduate from BYU.
Not bad for someone who grew up surrounded by citrus orchards and sugar cane fields in a town so small he had no street address. "People just wrote ‘Nugents' on our mail and we'd get it," he chuckles.
After excelling in math, computer science, and other subjects, Spencer, who has a 3.9 GPA, chose to major in industrial design.
"Industrial design makes the world better one product at a time," he says. "You really have to understand people and their behaviors and be in tune with their core values.
We embody ideas and actually give them a form and make them tangible."
Spencer gained hands-on experience through completing two internships and taking classes that required him to do design work for actual companies. Such impressive skills and portfolio materials earned him a prestigious scholarship, even though he found out about the opportunity only one day before the application deadline.
"The students who earn this scholarship are chosen in equal parts for the design credentials they establish with their undergraduate work and for the potential our scholarship committee sees in them," says Tim Adkins, IDSA spokesperson.
Spencer said guidance from his professors was invaluable in preparing him for the honor, as they taught him to be practical while still pushing himself and the limits of design convention. BYU's industrial design faculty supervise and make suggestions but leave decisions ultimately to students.
"Spencer has a strong sense of personal accomplishment and trying to understand the application of what he is learning," says industrial design professor Richard Fry. "There are times when he has re-done an assignment over and over, long after the grades have been handed out, in order to make sure that he understood the concepts that were taught."
Spencer applied those lessons as a GM intern, where he was charged with developing the look and feel for a concept vehicle that Generation Y would consider iconic. He also interned with Astro Studios of San Francisco, where he accepted a full-time job that begins after graduation. There he worked on cell phones and home air fresheners, among other products. In the class project for Intel, arranged by an alumnus of the BYU program who is now at the company, Spencer conjured a device small business owners can use to harness the computing power of their previously outmoded computers.
"I want to make sure my designs are symbolic, have a deeper meaning, have a low impact on the environment and satisfy real needs," Spencer says.
Spencer draws some of his design philosophy and talent from his family. His father is an award-winning amateur painter who has always emphasized education. Victor Nugent hadn't heard how significant his modest son's scholarship was until about a month after it was awarded. Even then Victor was most proud of Spencer's impending graduation from the family's beloved university.
In 1975, shortly after they became the first Jamaican members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Nugents, then parents of two young children, visited Utah for the first time. They included a tour of BYU.
Victor, originally a chemist who later managed a citrus processing plant, was impressed by the students and facilities he saw, and by what he called "the personal living standards that were maintained and the highest levels of learning that were available."
"When I set foot on the campus, I immediately developed a great, overwhelming desire that all my children would be able to attend BYU," recalls Victor. "We were from Jamaica, we had limited financial resources, and we knew it was hard to get into BYU. We faced a mountain."
But one by one, the Nugents climbed it. Eldest son Peter, with a degree in sociology, now runs his own IT firm in Utah. Cecile, an art graduate, works at a museum in Pittsburgh. Mark, who has both civil engineering and MBA degrees from BYU, works for Intel in Oregon. Camille also graduated in art and does graphic design for a Utah firm. Spencer is the baby of the family.
"This dream has been alive since 1975," says Victor. "This is a continual thrill for me - that it is actually happening."
Writer: Shea Miller