Tense, design students pitch portfolios

One quarter of the applicants did not pass this year’s review, which required three samples.
Graphic Design sophomore Bailey Sears shows the work she did as a part of her major’s intensive portfolio review process.
October 27, 2010

Design students at the University of Minnesota have two chances to prove to faculty they understand the concepts from their first year in the program.

If they pass their portfolio review, they’re admitted to the major. If they don’t, they’re out.

Graphic design sophomore Bailey Sears, who presented her portfolio Oct. 8, said preparing for the review consumed her life.

"I put in a lot of time," she said. "Everyone kind of knew — everyone was like, ‘OK, Bailey’s going to freak out for a little bit.’"

On Oct. 20, Sears learned that she passed.

This year, 61 students applied and took part in graphic design’s portfolio review, including Sears. Of those 61 students, 25 percent did not pass, said Daniel Jasper, graphic design associate professor.

During their first year in the program, design students take classes that require them to produce at least three original projects. Then they present those projects at their portfolio review, Jasper said.

"It’s scary and it’s intimidating and it’s a lot of work, but I think it’s a good thing because you find out right away if you have what it takes," Sears said.

The reviews help faculty determine who fits in their programs and who doesn’t.

Jasper said it’s important that design programs set these high standards for students. Having the review helps to maintain the rigorous content of design curriculums and ensures the program is producing quality students.

He said graphic design faculty are looking at adding a second review of students after their junior year.

"What it tells us is that [students] have competencies, or this level of understanding, that is needed to move forward," said Stephanie Zollinger, associate professor of interior design.

The pressure to prove their mettle puts a lot of stress on the students — so much so that advisers work with the University’s Center for Spirituality and Healing to provide students preparing for portfolio review a workshop aimed at alleviating some of the stress, Zollinger said.

Apparel design senior Alix Nettnay remembers the strain.

"I was incredibly nervous. I worked so, so hard my first year to get my different projects ready for portfolio review," Nettnay said.

The day Nettnay was scheduled to find out if she passed, she said she was reduced to tears, overwhelmed with anxiety. Passing took a huge weight off her shoulders, she said.

"It strung me for a loop," she said. "It was an emotional reaction, an intense emotional reaction."

For Sears, banding together with other students was the best form of stress relief.

"I felt like I got the most support from my students and classmates. We would talk about [the review]," she said. "I think it’s the students who really come together to help you the most."

Sears found out last Wednesday that she passed the review.

"It was a big relief — I called my parents right away and told them," she said. "I told everyone."

Students who do not pass have one more chance the following year, but in the meantime, advisers within the college encourage students to work with a full-time faculty member to bring their weaknesses up to par, Zollinger said.

She stressed that the review is not as cut-throat as it may seem. "It’s the fear of the unknown, the fear of the process. So it’s natural to be worried and anxious," she said.

Sears and Nettnay both said that although the review is rigorous, it’s worth the anxiety.

"It keeps the program strong, to be able to weed out the people who are not as passionate or not willing to try and put forth the effort," Nettnay said. "They give you the tools to succeed, and if you’re not willing to put in the time and effort to use those tools, you have no right to be sucking the resources."

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