Graduates display portfolios at annual DMA Gala

Nick Strieter discusses his work with Christen Ellis

Nick Strieter, a 22-year-old graphic design student from Ann Arbor, explains his work process to Christen Ellis, a 38-year-old graphic design student from Canton. Gray Bancroft | Washtenaw Voice


The evening of April 29 was the mother of all art exhibitions. More than 60 students from the graphic design, photography, animation and video programs presented their best work in Washtenaw’s annual Digital Media Arts Gala. Most of the students were soon-to-be graduates, with exceptions in the animation and video programs for students who showed exemplary work but have yet to complete their degrees.

The gala is an exit requirement for students graduating with graphic design and photography degrees, as well as an opportunity to show off their pieces to friends, family, faculty and even potential employers. Animation students displayed their work every hour on the hour starting at 5:30 p.m., and film students began the viewing for their work in the Towsley Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Awards were given for Best in Show, Most Creative, Best Documentary and more.

“The show is like that huge milestone accomplishment. You’ve put in the time to get this degree, and now you made it, so just show yourself off,” said Ashlee Rothfuss, a 20-year-old graphic design major from Manchester, who is graduating this year.

Crisandra Welch shares a laugh with Lauren Slusarz

Crisandra Welch, 35, a photography student from Ypsilanti, and Lauren Slusarz, 32, of Detroit, crack smiles as Welch takes pictures of guests’ funny faces at the gala. Gray Bancroft | Washtenaw Voice

Crisandra Welch, however, likes to show others off. The 35-year-old photography major from Ypsilanti headlined her portfolio “Why So Serious?” The project featured portrait photos of 20 different people pulling funny, silly and downright side-splitting faces for the camera.

“I’m kind of goofy; I like to have fun. Photography is like a side thing for me, so I try to make it as enjoyable as possible,” Welch said. “I don’t like pictures of myself. The only ones I like, I’m doing funny faces, so it inspired me to do this.”

Welch also kept the project going at the event by keeping a Polaroid camera at her table and snapping the goofy mugs of any willing participants, giving them a mini to-go keepsake.

Some students chose a different path for their art. Nick Strieter, 22, chose a career in graphic design because it’s his passion.

“This is all that I can think of. Not all that I can do, but it’s the only thing that I want to do,“ Strieter said.

Shannon Vandervennet shows off her portfolio

Shannon Vandervennet, 35, a photography student from Bellville, and Lauren Sulsarz, 32, from Detroit, admires Vandervennet’s display at the annual DMA Student Gala. Gray Bancroft | Washtenaw Voice

The Ann Arbor native fell into graphic design after being exposed to it while taking a first-year experience course at Siena Heights University in Adrian. He’s now graduating as a graphic design major. His table featured redesigns for Better Made Potato Chips as well as Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, and he finds inspiration in great typography.

Sophia Adalaine Zhou was one of the few at the gala that dabbled in both mediums, displaying photography and design work. The 25-year-old graphic design major originally always viewed photography as only a hobby, but after getting interested in visual communication while working as an architect, it became more.

“I’m really inspired by nature, so I do a lot of photos and portraits. I really like the human face and form because I find it so expressive,” Zhou said. “And then I can explore ideas that are less conventional, and people can be like ‘Oh, but it’s got a person in it,’ so it feels more relatable.”

As for design, she’s most inspired by a passionate client and works around their needs. One day, she hopes to work as an in-house designer and do freelance.

photographer Benjamin Bear talks with young lady

Benjamin Bear, a 26-year-old photography student from Adrian, receives praise from fellow photography student Jessica Dorow, also 26, from Ann Arbor. Gray Bancroft | Washtenaw Voice

Benjamin Bear Suydam, 26, from Adrian, also draws inspiration from nature. It’s the main focus in most of his works, which is readily explained when he speaks of them.

“Through being outside for long periods of time, going on really long hikes by myself, kind of centering and grounding and finding myself in nature, my genre of photography is, like, healing art photography, similar to the idea of reading a self-help book.”

The photography major viewed the medium as his own form of healing. He formerly struggled with things such as depression, anxiety, shyness and loneliness. He’s a strong proponent of healing oneself in nature and hopes to pass that along to others through his work.

“You need to find out what makes you different than everyone else. Find what your differences are, and really sell them,” Rothfuss said.





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