Alumni Collaborate to Establish New Design Prize

September 21, 2020

Five University of the Arts alumni have shown their gratitude to their education by establishing the Charles Hamilton Burnette Prize, to recognize their professor and mentor, Professor Emeritus of Industrial Design Charles Burnette, and to empower undergraduate UArts Product Design students. 

Dee Dee DeCherney ’66 (Interior Design), trustee; William Krebs ’66 (Interior Design), former trustee; Michael Lucas ’67 (Industrial Design); and Elliot Rhodeside ’66 (Industrial Design)—along with School of Design Dean Mark Tocchet, Product Design Program Director Phil Holcombe and members of UArts’ Advancement staff—surprised Burnette with news of the gift and personal tributes to his influence via a Zoom session in July.  

Professor Emeritus Charles Burnette headshot
Professor Emeritus Charles Burnette PhD

Burnette’s daughter, Allegra Burnette MFA ’95 (Museum Exhibition Planning and Design), also contributed to the fund. Her significant gift made the Burnette Prize an endowed award, given out in Burnette’s honor in perpetuity.

She said, “I am honored to help set up this endowment in my father’s name in recognition of his contributions to the field of design education and reward the great design work produced by future recipients of the prize.”

The Charles Hamilton Burnette Prize in Design will celebrate University of the Arts’ devotion to the art and science of advancing human creativity. The financial prize will be given each year to a graduating Product Design major to

  • jumpstart their career by helping them develop and market innovative products,
  • support students’ entrepreneurial drive and forward-thinking spirit, and
  • help UArts students shape the world around us.

“So many of our graduating seniors develop extraordinary products that solve problems and improve lives, but not all have the resources to take them to market,” Holcombe said. “This award provides students funding to turn exceptional projects into viable creative practices. Because of the generosity of our donors, more of our graduates can use design to make positive change in the world around us.”

Burnette said, “This gift recognizes not just the beauty and value of human achievement, but also how the person receiving the prize has become a caring, optimistic, knowledgeable, imaginative, insightful, expressive and skilled designer with high standards, values and the commitment to create a better present and future for everyone, everything and every place they focus on.” 

Because of the generosity of our donors, more of our graduates can use design to make positive change in the world around us. – Product Design Program Director Phil Holcombe

Burnette served as a tenured professor of industrial design at the Philadelphia College of Art and, later, University of the Arts, until his retirement in 2000. His impact on the University was vast. He developed a program in Community Design; initiated the MFA in Museum Exhibition Planning and Design; and established a graduate program in Industrial Design, in which an interdisciplinary team of postgraduate students developed a computer-based highway driving simulator. Funded entirely by the Federal Highway Administration, the program introduced an innovative approach to education, design, research and development, while providing full tuition and an interdisciplinary research experience not available elsewhere.

Burnette also initiated Design With Kids, through which students assisted teachers with classroom projects. With the help of the Art Education department and funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the city of Philadelphia and other sources, teacher training and other programs were added. These included Design Link Between Art and Science, funded by the state of Pennsylvania. Design With Kids virtually connected four public schools, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Franklin Institute. Learn more at

A light blue Mugshot Polaroid camera.
Mugshot Camera for Polaroid, for an industry-sponsored senior project,
by Jaqueline Wilkerson '91 and Joan DeMaio, 1991 ​​

His other contributions included reshaping the Industrial Design curriculum, studio teaching, an annual speakers program, international and national conferences, and a biannual newsletter. The quality of student work resulted in several prestigious awards and many industry-sponsored projects each year.

Burnette endeared himself to hundreds of UArts students and inspired many of them to become leaders; he also helped shape the industry itself. For example, Burnette obtained funds from the Ben Franklin Technology Center for a program to help small companies better understand the value of design. He authored The Directory to Industrial Design in the United States, profiling the field’s firms, schools and research centers. His work and UArts were recognized in I.D. Magazine for affecting design education. He also received a Pew Fellowship in the Arts.

Burnette continued to be active in retirement, advising the Design Leadership Program at the University of Art and Design Helsinki; developing information systems for the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design; speaking at numerous international design schools; and serving as a studio leader at international conferences. He also consulted a Korean educational TV program based on his theories. Burnette continues to publish papers on design thinking at Academia, an online hub for academic work.

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