Oct 1, 2020
This year’s program went virtual, with winners recognized during an online presentation.

The story of how the Los Angeles Section of the IES set up the Russell Cole Student Lighting Competition is a winding one that is still unfolding as the lighting landscape continues to evolve.


The idea of a student competition by the Los Angeles Section began in the early 1990s when electrical engineer Eric Thrun, and Los Angeles Section president Mark Seegel wanted to establish a scholarship similar to the San Francisco Section’s Robert Thunen Memorial Scholarship. Thrun sought to name the award after his close friend Saul Goldin, an electrical engineer from Manitoba who moved to LA to open his own office in 1960. Goldin became an associate member of IES in 1961 and a full member in 1965. Active in the local Section, Goldin went on to serve as regional vice president of the South Pacific Coast Region and then was elected as a Director of the Society from 1975 to 1978.

In the early 1980s Goldin began teaching at the Southern California Institute of Architecture. Being exposed to design architects, he decided to pursue an architectural graduate degree and completed it as class valedictorian at the age of 67. This was all the more remarkable given that a few years before his graduation, he was diagnosed with lung and liver cancer. He was made an honorary IES Member in 1991 and peacefully passed away later that year. Not long afterwards, in the early 1990s, Eric Thrun approached the Goldin family about creating a scholarship in Saul Goldin’s name. The family enthusiastically agreed.

To fund this new endeavor, the Los Angeles Section looked to its events to help bring in money. Lighting designer and former IES Los Angeles Section president Dawn Hollingsworth started a golf tournament in the mid-90s that now typically attracts 100 participants every year. The tournament has grown based on the solid foundation that Hollingsworth and former chair Michael Shearer established over the last twenty-five years. In addition to the golf tournament, the Los Angeles section began hosting an annual product fair in 1995. Moving forward to 2020, this fair now boasts over 100 manufacturers that attend to display products and an estimated 700 people in attendance. It has become an established event that brings the lighting community in Southern California together and results in a substantial profit for the student fund—around $10,000 annually.

Seeing the potential of these two fundraising events, Seegel felt that opening an investment account would be a smart idea. The IES-LA student investment fund was opened in 2004 with a starting amount of $40,000. With money earned each year from the fundraising events and with an average growth rate of 5%, the account currently has close to $300,000.

The steadily increasing value of the student fund cleared the way for other opportunities as well. In 2012, the section approached the California Lighting Technology Center at UC Davis about creating an internship. The director, Michael Siminovitch, Ph.D., agreed to accept a student for eight weeks during the summer to participate in the Center’s current research. For this new opportunity a shifting in names was necessary. Saul Goldin’s name was moved to honor the internship, while the Section Board sought out another name to represent the student lighting design competition.

The deserving name was Russell Cole and the student design competition became the “Russell Cole Student Design Competition.” Russell Cole was a second-generation owner of Cole Lighting, which, having been established in 1911 by Clarence Cole, is one of the oldest lighting companies in the U.S. It became a well-known lighting manufacturer in the Los Angeles area and their luminaires have been installed in iconic projects such as Disneyland and the Griffith Observatory.

Design Competition

To be eligible for the competition, applicants must be enrolled in an accredited program at a school located in southern California. The students are given a real-life project, such as a restaurant or community center and tasked with designing a lighting concept. The students entering the competition are held to the same high standards as working lighting design professionals. Divided into “concept” and “advanced” categories, the competition aims to get young students in the design field excited about lighting and to understand its significance.

This year, a total of $20,000 was given to all student winners including Damien Perard (Advanced Winner), Bianca Costa (Advanced 1st Runner Up), Yuliang Jiang (Advanced 2nd Runner Up), Yushi Wang (Advanced Special Recognition), Christine Ferriter (Conceptual Winner) and Omar Madkour (Conceptual Runner Up). Advanced winner Damien Perard, was awarded $8,000 for his design of a multi-cultural community center located in Los Angeles.

The Future

The co-chairs of the competition would like to see it grow each year with more entrants from diverse backgrounds. The mission of the competition is to get young students in the design field excited about lighting and to understand its significance in the environment. In the future, the section and students would like to see more complex projects being used for the competition.