This spring, the College of Fine Arts will highlight four outstanding students at the upcoming spring commencement ceremony on Friday, May 18. These students were selected by the chairs of their respective departments as examples of excellence in the college.
Melissa Munoz is a senior who will graduate with a B.M. in Music Performance. Melissa received the Polome Music Scholarship sponsored by the Mu Phi Epsilon Austin Alumni Chapter and competed at three National Trumpet Competitions during her time at UT. After graduation, she will study at the Yale School of Music for a Masters in Trumpet Performance.
Why did you choose UT?
I came because of the trumpet professor, Ray Sasaki. I had come to band camp here right before my senior year of high school, and we all got to have lessons with him and work in the facilities and be in the band. It was just a really big moment for me. Also, [UIL] Solo and Ensemble was here, so it’s always been the dream for me to come here.
What are some of your favorite things about the program?
The biggest things for me were the ensembles because there are so many different ones I could perform in. I started with the wind symphony, then was in the wind ensemble almost my entire time here and then the orchestra, the opera orchestra and ,of course, the Longhorn Band my first year here. So there’s a lot to do, and you have a small community in the music school, which I thought was great, but you’re also part of a huge campus, so you get the big university feel, and you get the small conservatory feel in the music school, and it’s just a really great place, it’s a good environment. I came in as an education/music studies major, but then I switched to performance.
What do you hope to do after receiving your graduate degree from Yale?
I would like to be a touring brass quintet musician. That’s the dream. But I would also like to be an opera pit musician—really anything that pays me to play. I was also thinking of doing freelance in New York for a little bit. I want to play for a while and then eventually go back to school to get my D.M.A. and, way later in life, to be a college professor. Right now I teach in Leander. It’s my private trumpet studio that I got to grow while here. Twenty students—10 at Leander High School and 10 at the middle school. I just sent a bunch of emails to band directors trying to sell myself to be their private lesson instructor, and it’s really been excellent for my own playing and practicing. But right now I really want to be a player and eventually teach students at the collegiate level.
Are you taking a break this summer before starting grad school?
This summer I’m going to Spain with my old youth orchestra from high school. The director asked if I was able to come with them and be a chaperone and a player, so I’ll be playing and chaperoning, and we’ll be there for 10 days. This is a good time, and it’s been a lot of work and a lot of studying and really long nights, but finally I feel like I’m reaping the benefits.
Oluwaseun “Sam” Olayiwola is a senior who will graduate with his B.F.A. in Dance Studies this spring. Olayiwola has been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study choreography at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. He was recently honored with a University Co-op George H. Mitchell Award for his research project “A Triptych of Choreographic Experiments Understanding and Interrogating Identity,” a compilation of three projects that Olayiwola had been working on that deal with identity in diverging and converging ways.
Though Olayiwola started at UT as a computer science major, he quickly realized his passion lay elsewhere. He had some dance experience through color guard in high school and a summer spent with a professional drum corps, and he decided to transfer into the Dance program in the Department of Theatre and Dance.
What was it like to transfer into the Dance program?
I think I was ready for the challenge. Fortunately for me, color guard does have a lot of jazz-y, ballet, lyrical modern movement mixed into one product, which is really strange. So I had bits and pieces of things. But my physical development—I had the words, I knew what it was, but having it in my body and being able to execute, I just needed the refinement. The audition was a ballet class, and I'd never taken a formal ballet/barre, all the way to grand allegro. That was my first time doing that, which wasn't too bad because I'd had a little bit of ballet stuff from doing color guard. But then the other part of the audition was actually in Charles Anderson's class, which was an Afro-contemporary class, and I'd never taken that. His vocabulary was a vocabulary that wasn't in my body. It wasn't that the form didn’t exist in my body because I was raised in an all-Nigerian church, and part of our Pentecostal version of church was very rhythmic, a lot of dancing. So, I'd been dancing in church, I knew how to move my hips, I knew how to move in rhythms that weren’t deriving from a Western idea of a technique, but not in a formal way like for a class, in a technical platform, where I'm performing for people who are looking at me and wondering, “Do we want this person in the program or not?”
What's been the best part of your experience in the Dance program at UT?
Getting to perform, getting to choreograph and being involved in Dance Repertory Theatre. We rehearse hours on end during the semester, and it gets tiresome. Often you just don't want to do it anymore, and then you get into performance season. Even as a choreographer, you get fatigued—you don't know where you want the piece to go, at the time you don't know what this piece means. Then you get to production season, and I hate to be a cliché, but it all pays off. There is something about getting into the world where you're presenting and you're sharing pieces no longer in the refinement mode, but okay with where the work is. It may not even necessarily be finished, but it's in a mode of place and presentation. There's something rewarding and cathartic about having your choreography being shown finally.
What do you think are the biggest strengths of the program?
Dance Repertory Theatre brings in so many national and international guest artists to build our network, to build our technique, to build our repertoire of movement --we get these really talented, renowned choreographers here. It's really special, and not a lot of programs have the resources to do that, so I'm so grateful that we do. It's probably one of the biggest strengths of this program.
But also that this program cultivates artist citizens—people who have a clear technique and creative practice, but are also able to use that to respond to the world around them as choreographers, as performers, as teachers, as scholars in different ways and different fields. That's what I think is really unique about this program. There's not a mold to fit into. You have enough structure to grow whether you want to or not, but enough space to cultivate your interests and go further into what you are interested in. If I was in a different program, I don't know if I would have been interested in applying for the Fulbright or if I would have had the skills to talk about my art or my choreography or my teaching at the level that I can now.
Jessica Vacek is a senior who will graduate with a B.F.A. in Studio Art this spring. She's been the recipient of the Hutchison International Scholarship, the University Leadership Network Four Year Scholarship, the Internship Scholarship Award through the College of Fine Arts, the Russell Lee Scholarship in Photography, the Risograph Fellowship Award and theCollege of Liberal Arts Oxford Undergraduate Research Scholarship.After graduation she’ll study abroad at Oxford University in England through the English Summer Program.
Why did you choose Studio Art?
I chose to study art because it was challenging for me. In high school, it was one of the only things that didn’t come as easily—I could have chosen astronomy or psychology or English, but I’m really happy with my major. I would say I love what doing art has taught me about being creative, about working with other people and problem-solving and learning how to budget. We learned a lot of technical skills too, and no matter what I end up doing, in all aspects of my life, I’ll have these skills with me.
And there’s so much you can do in this program and so many resources available. There’s the woodshop, the print lab, computer lab, 3-D Fab Lab, transmedia lab—and the staff is really helpful. That’s what college was about for me is having access, being exposed to things I had never been exposed to before.
What are some of your proudest achievements?
I think I’m most happy with in general how I’ve had a job for four years here in the Art building. I got it the first day I came to college, and I’ve kept it the whole time. I had an internship every semester, always working with magazines or newspapers. Getting the photography scholarships and stuff were important to me because it’s the main thing I do. But I think the thing I’m proudest of is, I’m also in the Creative Writing program, and I started helping a professor on a volunteer program for a writing class in a prison that she runs, and she helped me start my own art program for the inmates as well. It’s called Pen City Illustrators, and that’s definitely the most rewarding thing that I’ve done out of my time here and also to be able to make art and making art more accessible to people who need it.
Why is it important to you to make art accessible?
I think it just gives a person agency and makes them feel like they have choices. I’m really into writing and narrative and storytelling, and I think that art makes you be able to tell that story, even if it’s not directly communicated. I think a lot about language and how words are only one level of communication, and images and drawing is a whole other level. All these things can come together—image, text, drawing and other elements—to try and really communicate something that can’t just be done with words.
Clay Damron is a senior who will graduate with a B.S. in Arts and Entertainment Technologies this spring. He’s been awarded the Marriott International Industrial Design Challenge, won first place at the Freetail Design Hackathon, and in 2015 he created a model that was used to demonstrate Stanford virtual reality research that reduces eye fatigue at the annual SIGGRAPH conference.
Why did you transfer to the AET program?
Since adolescence, I’ve always been really engrossed in level design, 3-D modeling and technical art. When I first came to UT there was no area of study that encompassed my interests, so I became an engineering student. However, following the inception of the AET program, I knew it was time for a transfer. I knew that the project-based curriculum would prepare me to work in a real production environment. The latitude given to students through the independent study class and the senior thesis program encourages specialization, another important feature of the program.
Were you happy with that decision?
When I first applied, I had no idea that the construction of state of the art facilities was underway. The modernization of the library afforded students access to a recording studio, free 3-D printing, 3-D scanning, CNC milling and other benefits. Every student appreciated that to an incredible degree, and I know we get good use of it because they’re constantly booked.
What were some of your favorite projects?
When I began my senior thesis project I was working at Mixer and we were working on a virtual environment. It was very large scale, and it was for mobile devices. I did all the 3-D modeling, the textures, the level design, the animation and also the mobile optimization for that level. So it was a very wide breadth of work. Then this last semester for senior thesis, we developed VR experiences and AR experiences for clients, and we’re getting some big names so it’s an exciting time. We’re working primarily in Lens Studio, but I still get to utilize all the 3-D modeling skills and the rendering and lighting skills I learned while I was in AET. The programming classes I took while I was in the AET program prepared me to work on other platforms and ultimately learn languages like C-Sharp and the languages required to write shaders. It’s an incredibly useful skillset when you’re talking about mobile game development, and the project-oriented nature of the AET program was also critical in terms of learning to work in a real production environment, which I think is crucial to anyone who is primarily career-oriented.