A pencil and a piece of paper — that’s the only medium Ethan Greb used in high school. And it proved to be all he needed.
Flash forward past Greb winning his high school’s logo design competition (his school still uses it today), and Greb ‘19 is now the publishing coordinator for the Barney Charter School Initiative, impacting teachers and students across the county with his ability to make things beautiful.
“It’s been a long journey, getting into design,” he said. “In high school I really liked drawing and art in general, but I only did it as a hobby. When I came to Hillsdale, I took a few studio classes like drawing and sculpture, and my roommate was a photographer, so he got me into photography. Graphic design was the last medium I explored.”
One of Greb’s professors recommended him to BCSI, a sub-department of Hillsdale that advances the founding of classical charter schools. According to its website, one of BCSI’s most important functions is to “assist in creating and implementing the school’s academic program, providing the curriculum design and teacher training.” Most of Greb’s work falls under this category.
Greb is currently working on BCSI’s K‑12 curriculum guide as well as a literacy textbook for grades one through three.
“Basically, I take things for the office and make them aesthetically pleasing,” he said. “Whatever I can do to make the material more accessible and more readable, that makes the experience of the viewer more pleasing.”
Greb said that his work on the literacy guide is an attempt to redesign the presentation of literacy itself. For instance, Greb designed a set of icons that correspond to every subject area in the program guide. Most challenging was the Latin icon, for which he considered a column but eventually decided on a centurion’s helmet to tie in with readings from Caesar, he said.
“The previous [literacy] program that we used was very poorly designed — it was too cluttered, and teachers had a very hard time learning from it,” he said. “What we’re attempting to do with literacy essentials is to present it in a way that’s easier for teachers to understand and read, so that they can teach their students more effectively.”
For Ethan, Hillsdale’s commitment to beauty and education impact the way he thinks about his work and the effect he wants it to have.
“The goal of design is to bring order to chaos,” he said. “Done correctly, design will always enhance learning.”
Jolene Estruth, a Hillsdale senior and copy editor for BCSI, edits publications before Greb redesigns them.
“It’s really cool because I can look at what I’m supposed to be editing and I’ll see that Ethan has moved around the format, or added a totally different graphic, or he’s added this picture that has helped a lot with what I’ve flagged as unclear,” she said. “I was astounded when I saw the final thing in print because it was so much easier to use.”
Like Estruth, Greb received a classical education in high school and college, and he’s passionate about expanding the classical model into elementary schools.
“I’ve really come to love the liberal arts, and I think starting that as early as you can, in Kindergarten or preschool, is better,” he said. “I really love the Hillsdale model, and what we’re doing with our charter schools is taking the college curriculum and bringing it down to the K‑12 level.”
Although he’s passionate about graphic design, Greb said that he would love to teach for BCSI one day. “I’ve really fallen in love with education,” he said.
Caroline Greb, Ethan’s wife and an art major at Hillsdale, said that his style has noticeably matured since he began working for BCSI.
“Over the last six months, he’s really refined a style,” she said. “Senior year Ethan’s style was very groovy, ‘70s colors, and it’s been cool to watch his artistic style match his season in life.”
According to Caroline, Ethan loves design so much that he often does independent work for publications that he’s passionate about.
“He’ll do independent projects just for fun,” she said. “There’s a magazine that we both really like, “Art and Academia”, and he said ‘I’m going to design a logo for them just for fun,’ and now they’ve asked him if they can pay him to do it.”
“He goes after things that inspire him, like education and art,” Caroline continued. “He’s started melding the transcendentals of truth, beauty, and goodness into his design, and that’s what’s made his work really full and rich and given it a lot of depth.”