Amanda Lembke Named EDPA’s 2023 Designer of the Year 

A black-and-white photo of a woman next to the Experiential Designers and Producers Association logo which says "Amanda Lembke EDPA Designer of the Year 2023"

Lembke is the fifth BSU graduate to win in the award’s 21-year history 

For the fifth time since the award was established in 2003, the Experiential Designers and Producers Association (EDPA) has named a Bemidji State University graduate as its Designer of the Year. 

Amanda Lembke, who graduated from Bemidji State’s exhibit, graphic and electronic design program in 2009 and returned for a master’s degree in 2011, received the EDPA’ s 2023 Designer of the Year at the association’s November 2023 annual conference. The EDPA says the award recognizes a designer “…who works diligently to enhance the professional standards of experiential/exhibit designers (and) contributes their talents, creativity and personal time to bring innovation to experiential/exhibit design.” 

Lembke is the creative director for Star Exhibits and Environments in Minneapolis, Minn., and also serves as president of the EDPA’s Upper Midwest Chapter. In 2022, she also received the EDPA’s Young Professionals Award which recognizes early-career designers who are making an impact on the industry. She has also maintained extensive connections with the BSU exhibit design program, guiding students as part of the department’s mentorship program, returning to teach as an adjunct instructor, and hosting BSU students for a behind-the-scenes tour at a prominent radiological trade show in Chicago. 

“Thanks to faculty networking and the success of the program’s alumni, BSU’s exhibit design program has significant industry recognition,” Lembke said. “Today I work for Star, a company with at least six BSU graduates. I can find myself speaking with trade-show industry people anywhere in the country, and when I say, ‘I am a Bemidji grad’ there is instant recognition.” 

Lembke credits the skills she developed at BSU for helping her establish herself as a designer. 

“The industry knowledge and education I left the program with, along with the program-supported client presentation and networking skills, gave me a huge leg up to quickly gain momentum in my career trajectory,” she said. 

Lembke’s Designer of the Year award continues BSU’s remarkable impact on the EDPA’s Designer of the Year award. With her 2023 award, BSU graduates have now won each of the last two EDPA Designer of the Year awards and five of the 21 awards all-time. 

BSU alumni who have been named EDPA Designer of the Year are: 

  • 2023 – Amanda Lembke ’09/’11 
  • 2022 – Kyle Lucken ’11 
  • 2019 – Stephanie Pheneger ’11 
  • 2012 – Justin Dworak ’97 
  • 2011 – Shawn Bicker ’95 

BSU offers one of few undergraduate degrees in the United States focusing on exhibit design, and its students benefit from the program’s extensive partnerships with the professional design industry. These partnerships are further reflected in the EDPA Designer of the Year award. In addition to BSU’s five alumni recipients, several other winners have ties to BSU. 

After receiving the Designer of the Year award in 2013, Dana Esposito taught as an adjunct professor for BSU’s School of Technology, Art & Design and continues to advocate for students to gain professional experience while in school. As a co-president of the EDPAs’ University Affiliations Committee, she connects students from BSU and the graduate program at the New York City Fashion Institute of Technology with industry professionals. She is currently executive vice president for strategy at BlueHive in the greater Boston area. 

Mark Holmes, Designer of the Year in 2014, has also supported BSU’s exhibit design program by serving on its advisory board, as a speaker at its BSU TAD Talks event, and as a reviewer for the program’s annual portfolio review of student work. 

Many spaces like trade show events, exhibits and experiences are all made possible by the innovation of exhibit and experience designers. A career in exhibit design involves creating spaces with attendee experience in mind. The field blends multiple skillsets for interior design, architecture, graphic and experience design, leading to a highly competitive and rewarding career. 

The EDPA Designer of the Year Award is only one example of BSU’s success at preparing and engaging students with opportunities in this field. Offered in the broader technology, art and design bachelor’s degree program, BSU’s exhibit and experience design program offers a unique pathway that builds strong student connections within the industry and provides them with the resources to accelerate their creative careers. 

BSU’s program sets itself apart by exposing students to a wide variety of design skills while allowing them to focus on an area of interest. This gives students an understanding of the broad scope of opportunities for work in creative fields.  

Students interact with the exhibit and experience industries through guest speaking events, exhibitions and networking opportunities. Dr. Bonnie Higgins, professor of technology, art and design, said BSU’s program helps students develop quality portfolios before they enter into the workforce. 

“Our program creates an environment for students to think critically about design and the creation of experiences,” she said. “Another focus is on the professional presentation process that designers employ every day to communicate with their clients. Direct interaction with the industry helps develop a meaningful connection with the skillsets necessary to be successful in this exciting industry and career path.” 

Dr. Sachel Josefson, associate professor of technology, art and design, adds that BSU’s program also connects students with career opportunities throughout their learning processes. 

“We engage in projects and collaborate directly with companies to create an authentic learning experience,” he said. 

Students take on projects such as designing props for BSU’s orchestra program, creating the university’s National College Fair exhibit and engaging in projects with related exhibit and experience design companies. BSU students also compete for an opportunity to design the EDPA’s exhibit at EuroShop, the largest exhibit and retail design trade show in the world which takes place every three years in Dusseldorf, Germany. 

These meaningful connections continue after students receive their diplomas, engage in the job market and ultimately make a global impact on the design industry.