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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.
Image by Simon Guerra
Graphic Design sophomore Bailey Sears shows the work she did as a part of her major’s intensive portfolio review process.

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, theyâÄôre admitted to the major. If they donâÄôt, theyâÄôre 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 âÄî everyone was like, âÄòOK, BaileyâÄôs going to freak out for a little bit.âÄô”

On Oct. 20, Sears learned that she passed.

This year, 61 students applied and took part in graphic designâÄôs 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.

“ItâÄôs scary and itâÄôs intimidating and itâÄôs a lot of work, but I think itâÄôs 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 doesnâÄôt.

Jasper said itâÄôs 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 âÄî so much so that advisers work with the UniversityâÄôs 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 itâÄôs 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 âÄî 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. “ItâÄôs the fear of the unknown, the fear of the process. So itâÄôs natural to be worried and anxious,” she said.

Sears and Nettnay both said that although the review is rigorous, itâÄôs 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 youâÄôre 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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