Graduating from ArtCenter is a remarkable accomplishment; the College provides a rigorous education and everyone who satisfies our degree requirements has much to be proud of. During each graduation ceremony we also take the time to recognize a number of exceptional student achievements—students who graduate with honors, with distinction, those who have been awarded an ArtCenter Honors or LAUNCHLAB Creative Entrepreneurship Term and the top academic achieving student is recognized as valedictorian of the class.
But perhaps the most coveted of all is the Student Leadership Award. This award fulfills ArtCenter’s vision of educating artists and designers who are not only leaders within their professional fields, but leaders in their communities. Each term, the College reaches out to the campus population for nominations from peers, faculty and staff. All nominations are considered by a committee of faculty, staff and students and they select the student who most demonstrates leadership through their participation in ArtCenter’s campus life, community outreach, student organizations and department initiatives. The selection committee is often faced with a difficult task of choosing between exceptional students who have achieved not only academic success, but have taken valuable time outside their demanding coursework to help others and provide service to the ArtCenter community. This term was no exception. We would like to take the time to highlight this year’s winner and nominees.
Illustration graduate Kayla Salisbury, the Fall 2017 Student Leadership Award winner, was nominated for her substantial contribution to the discussion of diversity and sensitivity at the College. Her activism here started with a comment on the institutional Instagram page, which led to an invitation in 2015 to author a blog post for ArtCenter’s then blog, Dotted Line (now ArtCenter News), where she made a call to action to her fellow students to get involved, speak up and participate in the solution. Since then she has taken a leadership role in promoting dialogue and action at the College. Some of her contributions include: participating in campus club Chroma’s “Diversity Open Dialogue;” serving as the student voice on the College’s “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” panel discussion; creating a forum and support group “Woke” for students who felt marginalized to gather, share, heal and organize; representing ArtCenter at the Race on Campus College Conference at Redlands University; and working with Director of Faculty Development Sam Holtzman on creating a handbook for faculty illuminating the nature and impact of micro-aggressions. She has attended faculty and Diversity Council meetings, received a College Diversity grant, served as a consultant for a Designmatters class looking into the issue of food deserts in Compton, and brought her voice to Berlin, where, while participating in one of ArtCenter’s Study Abroad programs, she was invited to speak at an Anti White Supremacy and Unite Berlin gathering and was interviewed at a rally with a panel of others speaking out against racism, misogyny and homophobia.
In a statement in support of her nomination, Kayla says, “What I did here is no more than what I want to do for the rest of my life, loudly and unapologetically representing others.”
Kayla’s contributions to ArtCenter cannot be measured. She has been instrumental in pushing the College to continue to make changes and take action to create a learning atmosphere that is positive and constructive for all students. As one of her nominators noted, “we should consider ourselves truly fortunate to have role models like [Kayla] who remind us all of the necessity to question, reflect and embrace change for the benefit of all.”
Other nominees also boasted impressive community service resumes. Graphic Design graduate Jimena Gamio Valdivieso was lauded as “hands down the most generous, hardworking, helpful, engaged students I’ve had in the 3+ years I’ve taught at ArtCenter,” according to one of her nominators. Impressively, she organized a successful petition to have a specific faculty member teach a course that was not going to be offered due to faculty unavailability. She was also a teaching assistant and was very involved in ArtCenter student organizations. She founded the Picnic Club, and provided substantial support and leadership to others. She also created a group, Design Broads, that brought together female students and alumni that became an important support group especially following the election.
Photo graduate Yasara Gunawardena was celebrated for her service as an Orientation leader, department student representative and mentor. Many of her fellow students praised her for her willingness to assist others both in and out of the classroom. As one of her nominators noted, “Yasara is extremely rare, you don’t fine many people who show so much compassion for others around her, who is so selfless and always willing to provide a hand for those who need it.”
Environmental Design graduate Emily Nyburg was commended for her participation in Designmatters’ Safe Niño’s project, her performance as a teaching assistant and her leadership with the early stages of the College’s Art Reach program, developing curriculum for and leading a workshop for girls ages 7 through 15 at Pasadena’s YWCA. Emily sums up her extra-curricular activities at the College, “[a]lthough I may not have been part of every program at ArtCenter, and may not have led a trophy leadership role during my time here, I believe I may have left an impactful trace on the side lines.” We suspect Emily’s lasting impact at the College will be more than just a trace.
Product Design graduate Riley Gish’s nomination noted her extensive work with Designmatters, “Riley has been a team player, leader and collaborator,” according to one of her nominators. She represented Designmatters at the National Net Impact conference in Seattle, where she engaged in a series of workshops and lectures around designers’ role in the business of social and environmental change. She also developed a student club that showcases female designers through online platforms. Like other nominees, she boasts a long list of service but, in her words, “more impactful than any of those [things], I did the most important thing my parents taught me how to do; I’ve connected with people.”
Graduate Industrial Design graduate Chen Chen was nominated for her dedication and leadership with the student club ACBA (ArtCenter Branding Atelier). As president, she introduced the ACBA Pitch—a sort of “Shark Tank” that offered students a platform to pitch their ideas and designs to investors, industry professionals and the public. She also helped organize Pitch Bootcamps, to prepare students for the Pitch event, and facilitated Xboarder Industrial Design Competition, with Hanhai Studio, a venture capital company based in Burbank and China. Her nominators commended her dedication to networking to help fellow students build connections with professionals.
Product Design graduate Nicolas “Nico” Ramirez “inspires others to join him on his quest to make the education at ArtCenter a constructive and transformative experience while helping those that are in need of assistance,” according to one of his nominators. Noted for his contributions to the Designmatters “Fresh Eyes Cuba” studio, INSEAD study abroad program, JPL/NASA design symposium and Mexico earthquake relief effort, Nico also served as a teaching assistant for the Graphic Design Department. All his nominators remarked on his energy, passion, sense of humor and leadership.
Environmental Design graduate Jingze “Cooper” Dai, was so inspired by the ArtCenter mentor he met during orientation that he, in turn, devoted much of his time here to mentoring others. He served as a peer mentor twice, he represented his department on student government and he was a teaching assistant. He received the most peer nominations of all this term and his nominators were unanimous in recognizing his assistance, patience and kindness.
ArtCenter thanks and congratulates all the nominees for their commitment and dedication to making the College a more compassionate, transformative and life-changing environment for all of us.