A Bridge to the Caribbean: KCAD’s Budding Relationship with Puerto Rico
Beyond its white sandy beaches and tourist haunts, the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico is holding a treasure. Throughout the halls of arts schools and past buildings adorned with murals, the island is filled with a tremendous amount of creative talent, and that talent is something Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) has been hard at work to help develop.
Over the last year, KCAD has been forging a collaboration with Puerto Rico’s educational leaders and prospective art and design students. Salvador Jiménez, KCAD alum (’14, MFA Drawing) and current Community Arts Advocate, is leading the effort to develop these budding relationships. Already, he has taken a total of three trips, and while the first trip was spent mainly on getting the word out about KCAD, his last two have focused on building trust and fostering those connections.
Jiménez (left) gets to know some high school students at one of the many college fairs he attended while in Puerto Rico
Instead of focusing solely on recruiting students with canned speeches and flashy brochures, KCAD takes a different approach. At its crux are personal relationships and meaningful connections with students, educators, and institutions that are carefully nurtured over time.
“This isn’t the typical way of recruiting students,” Jiménez says. “As in all of our recruitment efforts, what I’m doing in Puerto Rico is all about helping students realize their talent and their creative potential and showing them how KCAD can help them find their own path to success. We are trying to develop relationships that can later foster more trust.”
For Jiménez, building relationships in Puerto Rico included getting to know parents and teachers as well as students
This kind of personal interaction was integral for Drawing student Raquel Silva, one of two students from Puerto Rico who began studying at KCAD this year as a result of Jiménez’s efforts. Silva met Jiménez at a college open house at the Specialized Central High School for Visual Arts (Esculea Central de Artes Visuales) in Puerto Rico. Instead of giving her a sales pitch, Jiménez asked to see Silva’s portfolio, and the two chatted about her work and what it meant to be an artist.
“The approach [KCAD] made was not like any other university. I think that was the best thing about this,” Silva says. “The relationship they made with us was real, not some commercial activity. They really care about it.”
Jiménez connected with student Raquel Silva and her family - her brother (far left) and her father (2nd from right) are pictured here - while in Puerto Rico. The personal touch was a big part of her decision to come to KCAD.
This past winter, Silva was invited to take part in a special weekend-long campus visit, wherein 24 students from across the country converged on Grand Rapids to learn more about what KCAD and the area had to offer.
“There was a lot to learn, but KCAD really had a lot to give. My final decision to come wasn’t as difficult as I thought,” Silva says. “It was all because of the interactions with the people I had met and what the institution can do.”
While artistic talent abounds throughout Puerto Rico, few institutions focus on art and design. Even students with access to art programs have little experience with building portfolios to help them take the next step. Jiménez noticed this disparity early on in his travels to the region and began to address it in a unique fashion. During his second trip to the island in March, he worked with a local high school to host a portfolio workshop for students interested in art and design colleges.
Jiménez working one-on-one with a student during a portfolio workshop he conducted at Puerto Rico's Colegio Rosa Bell
“That’s something minimal that can make a huge difference for the students by getting the right information to them about the different options they have and how to make the most of their portfolio,” Jiménez said.
For students looking to pursue higher education in art or design outside of Puerto Rico, Grand Rapids is an attractive place. The city’s vibrant creative culture holds a wealth of inspiration, while the city itself is small enough to not overwhelm students while they transition.
Jiménez is planning another trip in the Spring of 2015 in the hopes of firming up KCAD’s relationship with the Escuela de Artes Plásticas de Puerto Rico – Puerto Rico’s top art and design school – to grow the possibility of a deeper collaboration in the future.
Beyond Puerto Rico, Jiménez and his colleagues on the KCAD Talent Acquisition team will continue to use this same model of close interpersonal relationships to stretch KCAD’s reach beyond the region, forming bonds with students and institutions across the U.S.
Students in a drawing and painting class at the Esculea Central de Artes Visuales in Puerto Rico
After experiencing what KCAD has to offer, Silva believes that regardless of where the college finds its future students, they’ll be talented artists who have a deep sense of passion and respect their craft.
“There’s always going to be talent and where you search depends on students’ hunger for experiences, experimenting, and challenges,” she says. “[KCAD] encourages that hunger and helps students look further into what they can do to be successful.”