I had never really figured out my niche in high school. I played sports, participated in band, loved Spanish, and excelled in the sciences. But, I didn’t know where it all fit for me. When I came to Illinois, I enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and followed the advice of my family, pursuing a pre-med track because of my science skills. I also chose to pursue a Spanish major because I knew I wanted to have a second language in my back pocket. I had always wanted study abroad to be part of my college experience.

I was accepted to a study abroad program, and I spent the spring of my sophomore year studying in Barcelona. By that time, I was feeling the itch to explore something outside of my science coursework. I decided to use my study abroad to dive deep into my Spanish coursework, and to take time to reflect and explore other things. What an eye-opening experience for me! I was on my own in Spain at the age of 19, and felt really connected to the city, the country, and the language. I took a class in Spanish Art and I felt drawn to art in a new way. For the first time, I began to see myself pursuing something creative as an adult, and my dominos started to fall into place. I decided that, from then on, I wanted to integrate art into my daily life.

The summer after my study abroad I made the decision to transition from sciences to art. The biggest challenge was that I didn’t have a portfolio, so I spent my summer building one. Then, in my junior year, I transitioned to the College of Fine + Applied Arts, adding a second major in Graphic Design. Design has been such a unique fit for me because I have always had a problem-solving mind, which makes sense with my STEM background. I really see design as the intersection of art and problem solving. Throughout my classes, I found myself so intrigued by the research my art and design professors were doing in their field – whether it was art history, data visualization, or design thinking. We are so fortunate at Illinois to have direct access to experts who are engaged in research and continuing to learn along with us.

I also was able to gain some valuable hands-on experiences on campus. I served as a member of an interdisciplinary team for the HackIllinois event – the nation’s largest open source hackathon, held annually at the University. It was such an interesting process to see the whole event come together, from the branding process, to collaborating with the development teams who built the website, app, and technology components. I also participated in the intern program at EnterpriseWorks, the business incubator at Research Park. This program functioned like an agency environment, where I provided graphic design services to the various businesses across the organization. The experience was highly transferrable to what I am doing today.

Now I am working as a Graphic Designer at Pivot Design. The way that I found this job was so serendipitous. It was the spring of my Junior year, and I really wanted to get some agency experience. Yet, with my recent transfer into the field, I really had no agency connections. I found Pivot Design on Google, and sent them a friendly email saying that I was thinking about internships and wanted to learn more about them. They didn’t even have an internship on their website. Even so, we set up an interview and I ended up getting an opportunity that summer – it was a great experience! We wanted to continue to work together, so I stayed in contact and was able to line up a full-time job. I particularly like that Pivot Design is very focused on employee growth and continued learning experiences. For example, I want to learn more about motion design and animation. My manager actively connects me to projects where I can explore those kinds of things. I’m excited to see where these new directions lead.

For students still back on campus, I’d encourage you to be bold, and put yourself out there fully. If you feel a sense of discomfort with your current directions (like I did early in my college experience), there’s probably a reason for it. Pay attention to that. If you feel an itch toward a new direction to explore, go ahead and scratch it. Take the time and every opportunity to explore. College is there for you to figure it out. And when you do figure it out, don’t hesitate. Reach out to alumni and professionals to talk to them about what you are interested in and looking for. They are often willing to share, and they might be looking for you too.