Above and Beyond: KCAD Announces Recipients of 2018 Excellence Awards

Posted April 30, 2018 in Student

Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) has announced the 2018 recipients of the college’s Excellence Awards. Representing the pinnacle of undergraduate achievement at KCAD, Excellence Awards are given annually to those graduating seniors who exhibit a rare level of mastery and accomplishment in their chosen field of study.

“As KCAD students, these burgeoning artists, designers, art educators, and art historians have always sought to realize their full potential. They dive head-first into new challenges and opportunities, immerse themselves in their research and creative practice, and emerge from each experience more curious, driven, and empowered than before,” says KCAD President Leslie Bellavance. “We congratulate them on their accomplishments, and know that as professionals, they will continue to strive for excellence wherever life takes them.”

KCAD is proud to introduce the following students as the 2018 Excellence Award winners:

Charity Atton (Grand Rapids, Mich.) ­– Interior Design

woman in front of a backgroundimage courtesy of Charity Atton

During her time in the Interior Design program, Charity Atton not only excelled academically, but established herself as a consistent driver of community and conversation among her peers as well.

“Beginning in early studios, Charity displayed a willingness to ask questions, speak up first in critiques, and create a safe space for all of our designers in the classroom to participate in active studio conversation,” says Associate Professor and Interior Design Program Chair Lee Davis. “She always leads by example, and always approaches her design work with the users of the space at front of mind.”

Atton also impressed faculty and fellow students with her hand-drawn work, an increasingly rare skill in a field now dominated by digital tools and technologies.

“Charity’s design work is sensitive and lyrical, with attention to detail and a careful balance of color, light, texture and pattern,” says Davis. “Her hand work helps us all see how much she cares about an interior space, and shows her intent to make it the very best place possible for the people she’s designing for.”

Atton began working as an associate designer for Grand Rapids-based company TruKitchens in early 2018, and upon graduating plans to stay in the city and continue her active participation in the local design community.

Taylor Axdorff (Grand Rapids, Mich.) – Industrial Design

man in front of wallimage courtesy of Taylor Axdorff

Taylor Axdorff’s dexterity as a designer led him to undertake a wide variety of projects during his time in the Industrial Design program, from creating an innovative medical device that helps people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease manage their breathing treatments more easily to helping coffee farmers in rural Nicaragua develop a more sustainable production process that also increased profit.

The latter earned Axdorff and students from KCAD and the Autonomous University of Nicaragua 2nd place in Wege Prize 2017, a design competition focused on solving complex problems through interdisciplinary collaboration that’s organized by KCAD and open to undergraduate and graduate students worldwide.

“Taylor leveraged his artistic foundation, passion for craftsmanship, and curiosity for details to create the broadest range of applied design thinking the program has ever seen in a graduate,” says Associate Professor and Industrial Design Program Chair Jon Moroney.

“We have no doubt he will be a great leader and continue to set the bar high, inspiring those around him.”

Outside of his work in class, Axdorff also completed an 11-month internship with Steelcase, where he gained valuable experience designing furniture for the education and healthcare industries as part of an interdisciplinary team.

Upon graduating, he hopes to leverage his connections in South America to travel throughout the region and potentially teach an industrial design class at the Autonomous University of Nicaragua.

Laura Bishop (St. Johns, Mich.) – Collaborative Design

Woman in front of a treeimage courtesy of Laura Bishop

Laura Bishop came to the Collaborative Design program as an established professional, having run her own freelance contract advertising and marketing firm, Locale Media Company, since 2009 and having taught art, design, and multimedia at Lansing Community College since 2001. Prior to starting her own business, she managed marketing, communications, and creative services for the Lansing State Journal for 15 years.

Always eager to continue learning and growing, Bishop immersed herself in cutting-edge processes, strategies, and methodologies through the Collaborative Design program’s emphasis on systems-level thinking and human-centered design. She also further honed her existing skills with a minor in Graphic Design.

“Laurie has modeled the epitome of a Collaborative Design student,” says Associate Professor and Collaborative Design Program Chair Gayle DeBruyn. “She embraces the diversity of a team and understanding that the best results are found in the differences and struggle of personalities who come with varied levels of confidence, skillsets, and expertise.”

Upon graduating, Bishop plans to pursue an MFA or a graduate degree in art therapy, and hopes to one day work full-time as a counselor or a teacher.

Laura Bosscher (Grand Rapids, Mich.) – Graphic Design

Woman standing in front of a wallimage courtesy of Laura Bosscher

Laura Bosscher’s time in the Graphic Design program was marked by a rare level of professionalism. Her dedication to improving with each assignment in class translated seamlessly into real-world experience working for Well Design Studio, the KCAD Communications department, and the International Society of Experimental Artists, resulting in an advanced maturation of her identity as a designer.

“As Laura’s design sensitivities developed, her work matured and evolved into a very personal yet universal voice that continues to reach out and speak to us all,” says Associate Professor and Graphic Design Program Chair Joan Sechrist. “With the eye of a true artist and the ear of a genuine communicator, she visually and verbally told stories in the most vibrant, textured, relevant, and beautiful ways, most often making the complex elegantly simple.”

This gift for narrative led Bosscher to earn a prestigious Gold Award at the national level of the 2017 American Advertising Federation ADDY Awards for “ABC Book of Designer’s Confessions,” a tongue-in-cheek take on life as a designer influenced by the playful aesthetics of children’s books.

Upon graduating in December of 2017, Bosscher relocated to Anchorage, Alaska, where she works as a creative lead with the design firm VENUE while continuing to freelance for clients around the country.

Kendra Czuhajewski (Grand Rapids, Mich.) – Furniture Design

Woman standing in front of a wallimage courtesy of Kenda Czuhajewski

As a student in the Furniture Design program, Kendra Czuhajewski exhibited an open-mindedness that enabled her to create a range of products spanning all categories—traditional, transitional, and modern—and frequently integrated fashion trends and mixed material into her designs. In 2016, she earned a prestigious and highly competitive scholarship from the Celia Moh Foundation that covered her entire tuition for the year and gave her an opportunity to attend a networking and resource-building trip to the International Home Furnishings Market in High Point, N.C.

“There is no denying that Kendra has the technical skills to be successful, but just as important, she has the character,” says Furniture Design Assistant Professor Monty Simpson. “In the design profession, you will work with, and for, people from all walks of life. Having self-confidence and being able to connect with people in any situation is of great value.”

After a summer internship designing furniture hardware for Belwith Products, Czuhajewski was offered a permanent position with the Grand Rapids-based company. One of her first design projects, a marble and brass hardware collection, was nominated for Best of Show at the 2018 Kitchen and Bath Industry Show. Upon graduating, she plans to remain with the company for the foreseeable future.

Sarah Gust (Grand Rapids, Mich.) – Art History

Woman standing in front of a wallimage couretsy of Sarah Gust

Sarah Gust entered the Art History program in the midst of a highly successful career in commercial banking, looking to indulge her love of learning and her keen interest in art history.

“When I think of Sarah, there are several qualities that I can attribute to her: intelligence, dedication, enthusiasm, responsibility, maturity, and grace under pressure,” says Art History Associate Professor Dr. Karen Carter. “Her genuine love of art history shone through in everything she did. It was evident in her intellectual curiosity, her critical thinking, her spirited participation in seminars, her original scholarly research, and the seemingly effortless way that she excelled in her studies for the past few years.”

Kierstynn Holman (Webberville, Mich.) – Painting

women standing in front of a wallimage courtesy of Kierstynn Holman

As a Painting student, Kierstynn Holman came to embody the medium’s capacity to mine human experience and inspire dialogue. An installation she created around the issue of Title IX awareness, for instance, sparked meaningful conversation among her fellow students and showed her firsthand the communicative power that art held, a lesson she wouldn’t soon forget.

Holman also took full advantage of an opportunity to travel to Italy through KCAD’s relationship with Studio Arts College International in Florence. Immersed in the city’s cultural wealth and rich history, Holman grew her confidence as an artist. For her senior thesis, she created an ambitious series of work that seeks to capture the nuances and lasting impacts of various personal relationships she’s had in her life.

“Kierstynn is a proficient and dedicated painter who embraces the questions of art making. Her expertise as a painter and her courage to rethink problems is respected by faculty and her peers,” says Painting Professor Margaret Vega. “She is recognized for the sincerity of her work and an unwavering sense of purpose.”

Upon graduating, Holman plans to travel more and continue soaking up new experiences, and hopes to pursue a graduate degree and, eventually, a career in museum studies.


Shellaine Kelley (Mount Pleasant, Mich.) – Printmaking 

Woman standing in front of a windowimage courtesy of Shellaine Kelley

Shellaine Kelley’s work as a Printmaking student is characterized by a sharp wit and a heightened sense of social consciousness.

“Shellaine is a talented and thoughtful young artist with an outstanding ability to actualize her goals,” says Printmaking Assistant Professor Olivia Timmons. “It goes without saying that she will continue to challenge herself and others to look at society and ask the difficult questions, and she will answer them with humor and poise.”

Outside of her work in class, Kelley worked as a technician in the KCAD Printmaking Lab, fostering a sense of community and creative exploration among her peers. She has also been highly active in the Grand Rapids arts community, participating in a woodblock printing event during Festival of the Arts in 2017 and securing a feature on WGVU’s Art Unfiltered TV segment, where she demonstrated printmaking techniques to host Shelly Irwin.

Upon graduating, she plans to travel and continue refining her own creative practice.


Casey Newberg (Rockford, Mich.) – Metals and Jewelry Design

Woman standing in front of metal working toolsimage courtesy of Casey Newberg

Casey Newberg saw her time in the Metals and Jewelry Design program as a chance to explore and continually push the envelope of possibility. Her senior thesis project explores concepts of femininity and motherhood through functional vessel pieces created through an innovative combination of electroforming and 3D printing processes.

“In an academic field where the control over process is fast fading as a measure of value, Casey moved metal as if as soft as thought,” says Professor and Allesee Metals and Jewelry Design Program Chair Phil Renato. “Not that she found the work easy, but that she would not tolerate the sloppy, the ill-considered.”

Newberg’s thirst for excellence extended into her role as a technician in the program’s fabrication lab, where she facilitated the creative explorations of her fellow students. She also exhibited some of her work during ArtPrize 2017 in a special section of the event devoted to engaging the public in the importance of STEAM education.

“As Casey leaves, her absence will be felt in our studios, in our discussions. But that vacuum will fill with heightened expectations,” says Renato.

Newberg was recently announced as one of ten 2018 recipients of the Center for Craft’s prestigious Windgate Fellowship, a $15,000 award that enables skilled craftspeople to further their artistic development in any way they chose. She plans to use the award as a springboard to travel and continue to expand her understanding and her network through conferences, residencies, and research, with an ultimate goal of furthering her education at the graduate level.

Elizabeth Rennie (Spring Lake, Mich.) – Drawing

Woman sitting on a rock by the beach

Elizabeth Rennie quickly earned a reputation at KCAD as a driven artist committed to pushing the limits of her creative practice while encouraging those around her to do the same. While majoring in Drawing, she also pursued a minor in Printmaking and never shied away exploring all manner of different media and materials, including, as Associate Professor and Drawing Program Chair Stephen Halko fondly recalls, drawing with a cupcake.

“You can tell a young artist is beginning to be comfortable with who she is and expresses herself so specifically when others are able to describe her qualities with such consistency and reverence; Liz is this person,” says Halko. “Her enthusiasm for art making, her ability to talk about her work and the work of her peers with insight, and her high level of commitment assure the Drawing faculty that she will go far.”

Outside of her work in class, Rennie also exhibited regularly in West Michigan, often alongside her fellow KCAD students, and worked as a metals studio assistant at Interlochen Center for the Arts during the summer of 2016, teaching 11-18-year-olds how to metalsmith.

Upon graduating, Rennie plans to attend a studio workshop at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village, Colo.


Hayley Sikorski (Utica, Mich.) – Photography

Woman staring into the cameraimage courtesy of Hayley Sikorski

It didn’t take Hayley Sikorski long to find the perfect balance between education and real-world experience. In the classroom, she honed her technique through assignments and group critiques, eventually developing a bold body of work that investigates how representations of women and adolescence in teen movies establish unrealistic ideals for youth culture.

Outside of class, Sikorski learned the ropes of the industry through an internship at Grand Rapids wedding photography company Studio Phrene—owned and operated by KCAD alumna Phrené Hoeksma (’07, BFA Photography)—undertaken during her sophomore and junior years. The experience helped her secure a permanent position in late 2015 as a photographer’s assistant with another local company, Mod Bettie Portrait Boutique, where she assisted with photo shoots, wardrobe decisions, editing photo and video, and social media marketing. She also freelanced through her own company, Haley Sikorski Photography, shooting commercial photography, senior portraits, fashion photography, photojournalism, and more.

“Hayley has always held herself to the highest standards with the quality of her work and in her professional interactions, all the while demonstrating a strong work ethic and continuing to be a breath of fresh air within the Photography program,” says Assistant Professor and Photography Program Chair Leah Gose. “She has successfully made her mark on both the commercial and fine art worlds at KCAD and in the Grand Rapids community.”

Upon graduating, Sikorski plans to continue working at Mod Bettie Portrait Boutique and pursuing freelance opportunities in Grand Rapids. Eventually, she hopes to relocate to a major metropolitan area to establish herself as a fashion photographer.


Joshua Solas (Kingston, Jamaica) – Illustration

Man standing in front of a brick wallimage courtesy of Joshua Solas

Coming to KCAD as an international student, Joshua Solas immediately set about embedding himself in both the KCAD community and the creative community of Grand Rapids. Created primarily in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator as well as with oil paints and pen and ink, his pieces are characterized by vibrant visual storytelling and powerful explorations of imaginative and social themes.

Having already amassed an impressive exhibition record back home in Jamaica, with shows at New Wave, the Jamaica Cultural Development Association, and the Institute of Jamaica, he continued that momentum in Grand Rapids. Solas organized solo and group exhibitions at KCAD and on the Avenue for the Arts and participated in the Cultura Collective at Rumsey Street group exhibition in ArtPrize Nine that was nominated for the Outstanding Venue Award.

“Josh’s illustrations, whether traditionally or digitally painted, are superbly crafted and visually arresting. He has established his own unique voice, attacking controversial social subjects with intelligence, passion, and a biting wit,” says Illustration Professor Molly Alicki-Corriveau. “He has created a distinctive and contemporary iconography, culminating in an impressive body of work, and it has been a privilege and an honor for the Illustration faculty to play a part in nurturing his gifts.”

Upon graduating, Solas plans to travel, but ultimately hopes to find his niche creating visual content for brands and recording artists.

  Skylar Sparks (Kalamazoo, Mich.) – Sculpture and Functional Art 

Man sitting on a wooden benchimage courtesy of Skylar Sparks

Skylar Sparks’ investigative approach has made his time in the Sculpture and Functional Art program incredibly formative. On the technical side, he honed his skills in metal and wood fabrication while also helping his fellow students do the same as a supervisor in KCAD’s wood shop and metal studio for three years. Off campus, he worked as a metal restoration specialist at Bachelder Master Gunmakers and as a sheet metals fabricator and welder at Fidler Furniture Company, both located in Grand Rapids.

Sparks’ advanced technical skills enabled him to pursue a wide range of conceptual possibilities. He received a grant to create and install an aesthetically intriguing functional sculpture outside of KCAD’s Woodbridge N. Ferris Building. He also collaborated with a fellow student to concept, design, and produce a strikingly off-kilter news desk that was used by WZZM13 during the station’s on-site coverage of ArtPrize Nine.

“Skylar has been a knowledge sponge, learning how to use tools to transform materials in ways that ignite discussions on relating ideas to object or image, and history to potential futures,” says Sculpture and Functional Art Assistant Professor Natalie Wetzel. “He is as much a seeker of logic in abstract speculation as he is an appreciator of traditional methodologies. As a teacher, I know this combination of attributes is rare.”

Upon graduating, Sparks plans to relocate to New York City, where he will immerse himself in the city’s consumer culture in order to further investigations within his work of how consumerist notions influence contemporary society.

Grace Springsteen (Traverse City, Mich.) – Art Education

Woman sitting in front of a wallimage courtesy of Grace Springsteen

During her time in the Art Education program, Grace Springsteen established herself as a driven leader by embracing the program’s emphasis on curriculum design driven by cutting edge brain research and a heightened understanding of the larger issues surrounding K-12 education in America.

In her required student-teaching placements, Springsteen consistently proved her ability to respond to students’ individual needs, build strong personal relationships, and facilitate meaningful educational experiences that were sensitive to multiple intelligences and different learning styles. Outside of the classroom, her involvement in the KCAD Art Education Student Association State Council connected her to the pulse of art education on a state and national level, as she served as the organization’s representative to the Michigan Art Education Association, attending conferences and growing her network.

Springsteen’s outstanding work led her to be named Preservice Art Educator of the Year for 2018 by the National Art Education Association, the nation’s highest honor for art education students.

“Grace is nurturing and inclusive, she’s passionate in regards to making the world a better place, and she is determined in her efforts to help all of her students succeed,” says Professor and Art Education Program Chair Dr. Cindy Todd. “Her enthusiasm and positive nature set the culture for her classroom, and her students feel free to take risks in their artistic experiments and expression. She is the kind of teacher that every parent wishes to have for their children.”

After graduating in December 2017, Springsteen took a position as exhibition coordinator for Saugatuck Center for the Arts. Moving forward, she plans to continue her work there while also accepting a position as a guest teacher in Hasting Area Public Schools.

McKenzie Stegmeier (Rockford, Mich.) – Fashion Studies

Woman wearing a pink coatimage courtesy of McKenzie Stegmeier

During her time in the Fashion Studies program, McKenzie Stegmeier’s exceptional drawing and design skills were complimented by a voracious appetite for experience and collaboration. When not designing and constructing captivating garments, Stegemeier was working with her fellow students to execute full-scale events like the annual fashion show organized by the student organization Bodies of Art, for which she served as president; the Fashion Studies program’s annual Capstone Fashion Show, for which she was elected co-chair; and the Fashion and Music event held in conjunction with the Grand Rapids Film Festival.

Stegmeier also undertook an internship in New York City with fashion designer Danielle Nicole that furthered her pursuit of a refined personal aesthetic. 

“McKenzie is an intuitive and thoughtful designer who is willing and able to explore new methods while always keeping her signature style,” says Assistant Professor and Fashion Studies Program Chair Lori Faulkner. “She is respected by the other students in the program for her innovative style, her commitment to excellence, and her compassion for others.”

Upon graduating, Stegmeier plans to move to Orlando, where she will pursue a career in product or costume design with the hopes of one day working for The Walt Disney Company.

Rebecca Symonds (Chicago, Ill.) – Medical Illustration

Woman standing in front of leavesimage courtesy of Rebecca Symonds

As Rebecca Symonds progressed through the Medical Illustration program, she came to inhabit the same mindset that powers professional medical illustrators’ success. Her commitment to timeliness, attention to detail, and insatiable curiosity when it came to learning human anatomy and biology drove her student work to a professional level.

Symonds also fostered community among her peers as co-president of the KCAD Medical Illustration Club, organizing events and activities that fueled students’ development and facilitated a collaborative commitment to excellence.

“Rebecca separates herself with the correct combination of traits successful illustrators share: quality, speed, professionalism. Her attention to detail and the needs of the image show an intelligence beyond her years, she has never missed or even been close to missing a deadline, and she listens and excels with every process and procedure presented,” says Assistant Professor and Medical Illustration Program Chair Matt Schenk. “I am confident in her future as a medical illustrator, and I can’t wait to hear about her successes.”

Upon graduating, Symonds plans to move back to her hometown of Chicago, where she will pursue freelance opportunities while also earning a degree in mortuary science in order to take part in her family’s funeral business. Eventually, she hopes to earn a master’s degree in medical illustration.

Andrew Zesiger (Galesburg, Mich.) – Digital Media

Man standing in front of a studio backdropimage courtesy of Andrew Zesiger

As KCAD’s 2018 Digital Media Excellence Award winner as well as valedictorian, Andrew Zesiger’s achievements as a student are immense. While cultivating his own skills in animation, storyboarding, audio engineering, and digital fabrication, Zesiger also earned a number of academic scholarships and actively developed his creative practice in a multitude of ways.

He was part of a team of digital artists at KCAD that developed the Miner Madness board game and website, projects aimed at getting students excited about computers and coding. He also helped create videos promoting mental health screenings for Mental Health America, and created assets for a virtual simulation intended to help users better empathize with individuals struggling with anxiety, dyslexia, and OCD.

Outside of class, he interned with KCAD alumni and comic book creators Comfort Love and Adam Withers, created storyboards for independent filmmaker Tom Norton, participated on KCAD teams in the 24-hour international animation challenge, and helped fellow students pursue innovative expressions as a technician in KCAD’s digital fabrication facility, the Dow Center FLEXlab.

To Assistant Professor and Digital Art and Design Program Chair Brad Yarhouse, the true measure of Zesiger’s excellence was the way in which he inspired it in others.

“Excellence does not happen in a void; a community is an important part of how we support one another and spur one another toward our better angels,” says Yarhouse. “Whether in a class critique, a group project, or an extracurricular activity, our community has been enriched by Andrew’s leadership. He will be missed.”

Upon graduating, Zesiger plans to pursue a career in the entertainment industry as a storyboard artist, animator, or concept artist.


The 2018 Excellence Award winners will be recognized at an official ceremony on May 4, and their best work will be on display during KCAD’s annual Excellence Awards Exhibition (May 1-16), hosted in The Fed Galleries @ KCAD inside the college’s Woodbridge N. Ferris Building (17 Pearl St. NW).

The Fed Galleries will also be hosting the Masters Thesis Exhibition (May 1-16), spotlighting the fully developed work of the students who have completed their graduate studies.

KCAD’s Annual Student Exhibition (May 1-5), featuring work from each of the college’s programs, will encompass all floors of the college’s 17 Fountain St. NW and Woodbridge N. Ferris Buildings. A campus-wide opening reception will be held on May 1 from 4-7pm. All exhibitions and the reception are free and open to the public. For more information, visit kcad.edu/galleries.