Beloved Industrial Design prof Arūnas Ošlapas retiring after 33 years at Western

Arūnas Ošlapas will retire this spring after 33 years in the Industrial Design program.

My first design class at Western was with Professor Arūnas Ošlapas. I was a “non-traditional” student at 32. I was considerably older than my classmates and feeling a little out of place. On top of this, I was quite anxious after moving with my wife and 5-year-old daughter to Bellingham with the hope of getting into the highly competitive program at WWU. I wasn’t yet sure I had made the right choice.  

Then, I had a class with Arūnas and all my worries melted away. Arūnas’s larger-than-life character galvanized the room. His passion for design swept away those thoughts and replaced them with excitement and inspiration to do “the work”. His devotion to design was transformative. His lectures were engaging and filled with humor and stories from his life or of former students. His design skills were amazing to behold during demos and he genuinely cared for each student. In a short period of time, I felt confident I was in the right place. Seeing his passion for his work, and his commitment to each student inspired something else in me as well. It was the first time that I thought I might enjoy teaching. 

Amazingly, 14 years after graduating from WWU’s ID program, I am finishing up my first year of teaching alongside Arūnas in the ID program. Regrettably, I also find myself in the position of writing a farewell article about him. I had hoped to glean more wisdom from him, but, after a remarkable 33-year tenure at Western, Professor Arūnas Ošlapas is preparing to take on a new journey. His retirement marks the end of an era within the Engineering and Design Department, and an opportunity for him to focus all his energy towards other areas of his life. As his current and former students know, he has a lot of that energy to use! 

It’s about the students. It’s about getting to know who they are - what their dreams and aspirations are. It’s about seeing them, really listening to them and letting them know that they are supported. It’s about the people.

Arūnas Ošlapas

Arūnas Ošlapas has been more than a professor; he’s been a guiding force for aspiring industrial designers. His teaching is filled with experimentation, learning, and passionate discussions with students. Together, they’ve explored design’s principles and foundational skills, industrial design history, sustainable and circular design practices, and have completed many award-winning design projects. 

Arūnas’s commitment extends beyond the classroom. Arūnas is a co-founder of the Sustainable Design Minor which was created to promote long-term economic, social, and ecological values and equity within the Design profession. Additionally, he has mentored countless students, encouraging them to push boundaries and embrace creativity. His willingness to tackle outside projects—whether through projects with industry sponsors, encouraging students to participate in design competitions, or his work in his personal studio—has left an indelible mark on WWU.  

Professor Ošlapas’s passion for design and sustainability also extends beyond borders. As a Fullbright Scholar, Arūnas travelled to the Vilnius Academy of Arts (VDA) in Lithuania. There he taught a course on circular economy and sustainable design that culminated in the ReMade Project (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVhZW57UYc8).  

ReMade is an annual project in which students are tasked to design and fabricate new products from discarded materials and has been undertaken by Arūnas and his students since 2003. Since 2008, the opening of ReMade has been held at Ideal, a local design shop downtown – another testament of Arūnas’s ability to form long-lasting connections and his commitment to community. 

Beyond Academia, inside the walls of Red Rivet Studios, Arūnas breathes life into recycled metal, transforming discarded materials into captivating art. Ošlapas’s signature creations include woven metal baskets and vibrant metal wall quilts, each piece a testament to his ingenuity and commitment to sustainability. These works find their way to juried fine art festivals across the west coast. When not working on his next artistic creation, Arūnas participates in many outdoor activities including mountain biking, skiing, and fly-fishing and he enjoys spending quality time with his family.  

His wife Kathryn has been a steadfast supporter and collaborator. Kathryn, an artist and an amazing quilter, has been a creative force in their partnership. Together, they founded a design firm, have collaborated on art projects together, travelled extensively, and have raised three wonderful children. They now are very proud grandparents and I know Arūnas looks forward to having more time to spend with Kathryn and his grandkids. 

I asked Professor Jason Morris, Industrial Design Program Director and Arūnas’s colleague for 20 years what he felt Arūnas’s legacy was. He summed it up in this way: 
 
Teaching Excellence: "Professor Ošlapas is an engaging and enthusiastic educator who consistently goes above and beyond to inspire his students. His passion for the subject matter is contagious, and he fosters an environment where learning thrives. His excellent rapport with students encourages active participation and critical thinking. Under his guidance, students consistently produce high-quality work." 

Dedicated Service: "Professor Ošlapas has been an integral part of our academic community for 33 years, serving as the ID program director from 1991 to 2014. During this time, he played a pivotal role in shaping the program’s curriculum, ensuring its relevance and rigor. Remarkably, for a significant portion of these years, he was the sole full-time faculty member for the ID department. His dedication and leadership have left an indelible mark on our institution." 

Global Impact: "Beyond the classroom, Professor Ošlapas’ commitment extends to service projects that transcend borders. His sabbatical leaves were not mere breaks; they were opportunities for extensive and immersive service. As a Fullbright scholar, he actively participated in projects in Nepal, Mexico, and Lithuania, contributing his expertise and compassion to communities in need. His global perspective enriches our institution and inspires both students and colleagues."

Professor Ošlapas embodies the spirit of excellence, dedication, and service that defines a true educator. His legacy will continue to resonate through the generations of students he has influenced. 

Many of these students that Arūnas has influenced and inspired will be travelling to WWU to celebrate him at the WWU Industrial Design Alumni Gathering to be held  Thursday, June 13 from 4-8 p.m. in the Viking Union, Room 565.  

On our car ride home from this year’s Senior Industrial Design show, I asked what the most important thing he had done here at Western and his reply was not about him and his legacy.   

“It’s about the students. It’s about getting to know who they are - what their dreams and aspirations are. It’s about seeing them, really listening to them and letting them know that they are supported. It’s about the people.” 

 

Quotes and thoughts from his colleagues: 
 
"Thank you so much for your service and mentorship to students. I always appreciated your inventive approach to challenges and solutions we worked through at department meetings, and will miss the random requests and searches for plastic materials in the lab! Have a great retirement, and see you on the mountain!"  

  • John Misasi, Program Director | Associate Professor, Polymer Materials Engineering 

 

“Arūnas introduced me to industrial design and forever changed my life. I can confidently say I would not be who I am without his influence. I am grateful for his appetite for creativity, which has stayed with me since my days as a student.” 

  • Gian Umemoto, Adjunct Instructor, Industrial Design 

 

“Arūnas been so influential to the ID program and has had a huge impact at WWU. I will miss his big smile, sunny demeanor, and optimistic points of view. Happy retirement Arūnas!” 

  • Jill Davishahl, First Year Programs Director | Associate Professor, Engineering and Design Department 

 

“Arūnas is an enthusiasm dynamo.  Most of us have some faded memory of what defined the contours of our career – the satisfaction we found in some task or discovery, or youthful flights of fancy we could only hope to reach through our profession.  Spending time working with Arūnas, you almost think he rediscovers this same inspiration each morning.  His perpetual sense of joy in nearly everything he does is matched only by the uncontrollable pride he has for his students and their accomplishments.  My wish for him would be that he continues to find this indominable zest for life . . . but I'm not sure there's a force in the universe strong enough to stop him.” 

  • John Lund, Associate Professor, Electrical Engineering 

 

“I’ll always remember Arūnas whenever I see the amazing student projects he placed in the show cases on my way to office. I wish we still get to see him around because I’m sure we need his talent, experience and artistic skills.” 

  • Tarek  Algeddawy, Associate Professor, Manufacturing Engineering 

 

“I want to share that it was a pleasure working with him in this department. Fate brought us together, and what are the chances that we went to the same high school and the same university. It’s an honor knowing him.” 

  • Xichen Jiang, Associate Professor, Electrical Engineering 

 

“I recall stepping into Arūnas' office for the first time; packed to the brim with past projects, artifacts, and objects all in a colorful curation, summarizing over three decades devoted to this program, his students, and this career. I stood there, mouth agape, in awe of this cheery, shiny wall of visual verve: "This is Arūnas," I thought. Since the moment I met Arūnas, I was struck by his booming charisma, his whimsy, and his heart so large and proudly featured on his (artfully-textiled) sleeve that I couldn't help but feel an instant kinship. Thank you, Arūnas, being so true to yourself and spreading your immense warmth and optimism through every story you tell and in all the ways you contributed to your program. 

Arklį pažinsi iš dantų, žmogų - iš kalbų’ - A Lithuanian proverb  

With all my best for your next chapter (and the chapter after that, an' a' that!).” 

  • Jodie Permen, Office Assistant III, Engineering and Design Department 

 

“Arūnas has the ability to take even the most mundane item and make it stunning.  He’s mentored countless students and has taught them to see the world as beautiful as he does.” 

  • Nicole Larson, Professor, Polymer Materials Engineering 

 

“Arūnas, I will miss your smile, your stories about faculty and students from long ago, and I will definitely miss your positive energy that you brought to our department every single day.  It is obvious by listening to you talk that you still love teaching and inspiring promising young designers as if it were your first day.  Thank you for everything you brought to the Industrial Design program and to our department as a whole.  I will miss you. I wish you many adventures with your grandkids, your family, and your art studio.  I look forward to seeing you on the trails around Bellingham and at Mt. Baker!  I have no doubt you will continue to live life to the fullest.” 

  • Lisa Ochs, Pre-major Advisor, Engineering and Design Department 

 

“Arūnas, as you retire, I reflect on our 10 years together. Your wisdom, unwavering support, humor, and welcoming spirit made a big impact on my journey. Thank you for being an exceptional colleague. You'll be missed, but your legacy will always inspire me. I wish you joy and fulfillment in retirement.” 

  • Sura Alqudah, Program Director | Associate Professor, Manufacturing Engineering