Shantanu Suman, assistant professor of art, can remember exactly what his childhood smelled like.

“The smell of rain, rain on the dry ground — in India obviously it’s very hot so that was a good smell — and spices,” Suman said. “I was born in a Hindu family, so they worship trees and plants and other things. There were these trees that had leaves that were actually made into teas and things, so the smell of those, and always the smell of food — that was a big part of growing up.”

These scents — rain, spices, trees, foods — all came out of the small town in central India Suman grew up in years before he ever imagined he would become an art professor at Ball State University.

In high school, Suman took courses that would help him further his interest in the engineering field, like blueprint drawing classes, and was ranked among the top five students in India for his field.

When he began planning for college, however, Suman ran into a “happy accident,” something he said has happened several times throughout his life.

“My dad filled out the wrong form when I applied to college,” Suman said. “I wanted to become an architect or go into theater design. I had filled out everything [on the application], but one page was left, and my dad had to send that form. 

“I had filled in my first option as theater, and my second option as graphic design … I don’t know if it was accidental or intentional, but he filled the first option as graphic design and second option as textiles.”

Suman, however, did not correct the mistake, and instead went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in design from the Apeejay Institute of Design, Punjab University in New Delhi. 

After graduating from college, Suman stayed in New Delhi and worked in the advertising industry as an art director for about six years. 

When Suman decided to move to Mumbai, India, he unknowingly changed the course of his life once again.

“That was the first year — in 2008 — that I worked with a copy partner, and some of our works were sent for awards,” Suman said. “That was the year I won a lot of international advertising awards.”

Among his awards was a Cannes Silver Lion for advertising from the Cannes Film Festival, which is held every year in France. 

“After I won those awards, I started getting calls from all these different agencies, and they wanted me to come and join as a creative director,” Suman said. “I thought I was too young to be a creative director.”

In 2010, Suman decided to accept a fellowship from the University of Florida to teach typography while earning his master’s degree.

“Indians usually don’t go into art and design,” Suman said. “Even if they do, they don’t actually leave the country to study those things. Mostly you go for engineering or computers.”

This cultural standard made it hard for his parents to understand his decision and explain it to others, especially because he was the first person in his family to leave the country, Suman said.

“My parents didn’t know what I was doing for the longest time,” Suman said. “When I was in advertising, I worked mostly in print ads. Those ads were published in the bigger cities, so I wouldn't make any television commercials, and my mom could never understand what I did for a living because ... none of my family or neighbors had seen any television commercials.”

In 2013, Suman graduated with a master's degree in graphic design and moved to North Carolina to work at Open Door Design Studios, ODDS, where he worked with a variety of businesses ranging from local to international. 

It wasn’t until the fall of 2016 that Suman began teaching at Ball State full time, and he said he has enjoyed the chance to continue to meet new people and work with his students.

“He’s not only taught me an exceptional amount of information related to design, but he’s been a role model and mentor regarding professionalism,” said Anna Oakes, a senior visual communication major. “He’s pushed me in the best ways possible, and it’s been rewarding seeing how much growth has occurred to not only myself, but the entire department since he’s joined — it’s phenomenal.”

In each of the places he has lived and each of the jobs he has held, Suman said he has found that it’s important to make wherever you go your home.

Contact Justice Amick with comments at jramick@bsu.edu or on Twitter @justiceamick.