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Introducing the 2016 Excellence Award Winners

Posted May 2, 2016 in Student

Each year, those Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) students who exhibit a rare level of mastery and accomplishment in their chosen field are honored with the Excellence Award, the epitome of KCAD undergraduate student achievement.

“Each of these individuals are outstanding students who have dedicated themselves to getting the most out of their education. It won’t be long until we’re celebrating their professional accomplishments as KCAD alumni,” says Interim Dean of the College Ron Riksen.

We’re proud to introduce the following students as the 2016 Excellence Award winners!


Adrianna Allen – Medical Illustration (Lapeer, MI)

student Adrianna AllenAdrianna Allen

Apart from her success in the classroom, Allen was awarded the grand prize in the 2016 National Space Society (NSS) Space Settlement Student Art Contest. Her winning piece will be published on the cover of the NSS magazine Ad Astra, and she’s also been invited to attend the International Space Development Conference in Puerto Rico later this year.

Upon graduating, Allen plans to move to California to start a business with a fellow Medical Illustration graduate that will provide medical, scientific, and traditional illustration services to a wide range of clients.

“Adrianna out works, out thinks, and out performs her peers,” says Medical Illustration Assistant Professor Matthew Schenk. “She is working in the computer lab when I arrive in the morning. She is working when I leave in the evening. She is here working on days she has class and days she doesn’t. She is engaged with the projects she is working on and it can’t be overstated that she likes what she is doing. I’ve had Adrianna in many classes and she has never disappointed me. She gets the job done and gets it done correctly without ego. I have no doubt that, going forward, Adrianna is going to have great success. Her abilities, her curiosity, and her work ethic will drive that success.”

work by Adrianna Allen (click images to view full-size)

Megan Armstrong – Art Education (Port Huron, MI)

Student Megan ArmstrongMegan Armstrong

Beyond her success in the classroom, Armstrong served as President of the Kendall Art Education Student Association (KAESA). Her design of the KAESA website proved instrumental in helping the organization earn the National Student Chapter of Excellence Award from the National Art Education Association (NAEA) in 2013. Armstrong was also a keynote speaker at the NAEA’s 2015 Annual Conference in New Orleans, LA.

Upon graduating, Armstrong will continue to teach in Grand Rapids Public Schools, where she is currently teaching art at three different schools.

“Megan is the whole package; she has high academic achievement, wonderful artwork, fantastic classroom practices, strong leadership qualities, and a friendly, positive attitude,” says Professor and Art Education Program Chair Dr. Cindy Todd. “As President of KAESA, Megan was prepared and reliable, and learned to successfully navigate personalities, creating a cohesive, bonded group. She developed strong leadership skills in the process that will take her far in her career in education.”

work by Megan Armstrong (click images to view full-size)


Justin Beitzel – Industrial Design (Oakland, MD)

student Justin BeitzelJustin Beitzel

During his time at KCAD, Beitzel worked as an intern for Steelcase and was part of an interdisciplinary team that worked on a collaborative project with Spectrum Health focused on designing an innovative patient room to treat epilepsy patients in a more compassionate and effective manner. He also traveled with other Industrial Design students to Nicaragua, where he coached participants in a design workshop aimed at developing products that would improve the participants’ quality of life and strengthen their local economy.

Upon graduation, Beitzel says he hopes to join a design team full time, eventually expanding outside of doing strictly product design and focusing more on big picture challenges that could bring positive social change.

“Justin is a blend of problem solver, artist, storyteller, maker, and student leader unlike any who have graduated from the Industrial Design program,” says Associate Professor and Industrial Design Program Chair Jon Moroney. “He is a talented, inspired, and driven designer who will continue to make a big impact throughout his career.”

work by Justin Beitzel (click images to view full-size)


Kaelin Bender – Collaborative Design (Goshen, IN)

student Kaelin BenderKaelin Bender

During her time in the Collaborative Design program, Bender has worked closely with a number of companies and organizations in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Public Museum, Goodwill Industries, arts organization SiTE:LAB, and DisArt, a nonprofit focused on using art as a vehicle to change perceptions about disability. 

Upon graduating, Bender plans to continue working for Zeeland, MI-based design firm IDa Design, where she is currently employed as an intern. Long-term, she’s focused on continuing to use her design skills to have a positive impact on the world.

“Kaelin has successfully navigated many challenging team building experiences, persevered through numerous iterations of the design process, worked on transdisciplinary projects, connected with local community leaders and tackled community issues, and addressed opportunities in nonprofit and for-profit business platforms,” says Associate Professor and Collaborative Design Program Chair Gayle DeBruyn. “It is often said that empathy is the most important understanding a design team must have to be successful. In Kaelin’s work we see a consistent thread of empathy explored through many lenses, culminating in a deepening interest in social justice.”

work by Kaelin Bender (click images to view full-size)


Jessica Benson – Sculpture and Functional Art (Elgin, IL)

student Jessica BensonJessica Benson

Outside of her work in the classroom, Benson was nominated for the Windgate Fellowship award this past semester. If awarded to her, the $15,000 endowment would allow her to explore her own craft-based fine art practice at a deeper level.

Upon graduating, she plans to take the next year to investigate new materials and techniques through workshops and other studies with artists that are similarly informed and inspired by traditional craft. She also plans to return to school in the next few years to pursue a master’s degree.

“Jessica displays a sincere, unique, enthusiastic, and inquisitive nature with her work. She is not one to limit herself to a singular medium and mind-set and she has complimented her skill-set with a vast array of materials,” says Associate Professor and Sculpture and Functional Art Program Chair Jamie Watson.

work by Jessica Benson (click images to view full-size)


Nichole Dziadosz – Art History (Ada, MI)

student Nichole DziadoszNichole Dziadosz

Outside of her work in class, Dziadosz had the opportunity to help organize and participate in the Beyond: Mythologies initiative, which explored the use of constructed narratives throughout history through an art exhibition, public discussions, and a research-based scholarship competition.

Upon graduating, Dziadosz plans to continue her education by pursuing both a master’s and a doctoral degree. She also hopes to work in a museum or gallery while attending graduate school.

“Nichole is one of the most brilliant and dedicated students I have had the pleasure of teaching in the past 15 years. She has quickly blossomed into an accomplished young art historian who has the intellectual ability, confidence, and drive to embark on a career in art history, whether she decides to follow a path into academia or museum work. She has my fullest confidence that she will excel in anything that she decides to do,” says Art History Associate Professor Dr. Karen Carter.

work by Nichole Dziadosz (click images to view full-size)


Gunnar Forstrom – Drawing (Kingsford, MI)

student Gunnar ForstromGunnar Forstrom

In addition to producing outstanding studio work, Forstrom had the chance to travel to Scotland through KCAD’s study abroad program in 2015.

Upon graduating, he will be heading to graduate school to pursue an MFA degree. He also hopes to become certified as an art therapist.

"Gunnar dedicates himself to his artwork and to being a positive contributor to his community,” says Assistant Professor and Interim Drawing Program Chair Danielle Wyckoff. “Through the years he's been a student in the Drawing program, Gunnar has demonstrated ability in technical skill and conceptual depth and has increasingly developed an investment in material. In the classroom, he is a thoughtful peer, giving feedback and encouragement to his fellow students. The Drawing program is honored and delighted to have worked with such an outstanding artist and student.”

work by Gunnar Forstrom (click images to view full-size)


Helen Gardner – Graphic Design (Williamston, MI)

student Helen GardnerHelen Gardner

Apart from her in-class success, Gardner earned recognition two years in a row in the American Advertising Federation West Michigan ADDY Awards, winning a Silver ADDY in 2015 as well as two Gold ADDYs and a Bronze ADDY in 2016.

Upon graduating, Gardner plans to relocate to Indianapolis, IN and seek a position with a design studio. Long-term, she says she would like to continue taking ballet classes, pursue freelance design and photography opportunities, and potentially return to school to obtain an MFA degree.

“Helen represents the academic and creative standards that we place on the title of Excellence Award winner. Her work consistently demonstrates a high level of conceptual and formal sophistication that is matched with a congenial and joyous spirit,” says Associate Professor and Graphic Design Program Chair Jason Alger. “Helen’s presence is felt throughout the program in her fresh dialogue and honest critique, qualities of the culture that we are building. We appreciate her emulation and participation in that, and the Excellence Award is our way of saying ‘thank you.’”

work by Helen Gardner (click images to view full-size)


Danielle Hoag – Fashion Studies (Greenville, MI)

student Danielle HoagDanielle Hoag

During her time in KCAD’s Pamella Roland DeVos School of Fashion, Hoag participated in a number of collaborative projects, including one with Spectrum Health Innovations in which she and her fellow students designed special compression garments for children with neuromuscular diseases.

She also undertook a costume design internship with the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, was an active member of KCAD’s student fashion alliance Bodies of Art, and was accepted to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City during her senior year. Hoag plans to remain in Michigan after graduation to pursue a career in fashion or costume design.

“While certain students excel in one area or another, Danielle excels in all of them.  She draws beautiful illustrations that create a sense of how you will feel when you put on the outfit, and she also has a passion for construction,” says Assistant Professor and Fashion Studies Program Chair Lori Faulkner. “Beyond that, she is an intuitive and thoughtful designer who is willing and able to explore new methods while always keeping her signature style.”

work by Danielle Hoag (click images to view full-size)


Madison May – Printmaking (Grand Rapids, MI)

student Madison MayMadison May

On top of her studio excellence, May also served as President of Collective Pressure, KCAD’s student printmaking organization, and was accepted into the inaugural Four Rivers Print Biennial, a juried exhibition at Southern Illinois University where her work was shown alongside 54 other artists from around the U.S.

Upon graduating, May plans to increase her involvement at Grand Rapids-based Woosah Outfitters and Printshop, where she currently works as a printing assistant. She’s also looking to purchase her own printing press for her home studio, and would like to explore opportunities to join a local artist co-op and/or pursue internships and artist residencies. May will be also exhibiting her work in ArtPrize 2016, and will be preparing to attend graduate school in the next few years to obtain an MFA degree.

“Madison has earned the Excellence Award for Printmaking due to her strengths as an artist, the leadership she has provided for our program, and her tenacity and dedication as a student,” says Professor and Printmaking Program Chair Mariel Versluis. “Her artistic work addresses difficult, challenging, and timely issues such as domestic abuse and neglect, poverty, and inequality, and her charged, inventive, and highly-accomplished images display a skillful and bold handling of materials. In her work we see a mind engaged with the times we live in, which is what we ask of our best art and artists.”

work by Madison May (click images to view full-size)

Sabrina McLaughlin – Painting (Massillon, OH)

student Sabrina McLaughlinSabrina McLaughlin

Outside of her own studio work, McLaughlin was a highly active volunteer in SiteStudio, an initiative directed by KCAD Painting Professor Margaret Vega that provides transformative creative experiences to local youth.

Upon graduation, she will be moving to San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico, where she’s accepted a position as an art administrator at Casa de Eli. McLaughlin will be leading the organization’s Art Therapy department and helping to expand its locations throughout Mexico and South America. She also plans to continue working as a studio artist and exhibiting her work.

“As a painter Sabrina fully deploys the magic of process-based research, offering her viewers fascinating, complex, and mysterious puzzles to solve,” says Professor and Painting Program Chair Diane Zeeuw.

work by Sabrina McLaughlin (click images to view full-size)


Kaitlin O’Connell – Interior Design (Frankenmuth, MI)

student Kaitlin O'ConnellKaitlin O'Connell

Outside of her work in class, O’Connell was selected to be part of a design team at the International Interior Design Association’s (IIDA) Student Design Charette during NeoCon 2015. She also won top honors in the Kitchen category of the 2014 National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) State of Michigan Chapter’s Student Design Competition, and was part of a KCAD student team that took home an Honorable Mention award in the Haworth-sponsored ThinkUP Interior Design Student Competition.

O’Connell also developed an interest in furniture design as a KCAD student, and pursued the discipline as a minor. In the future, she hopes to design her own furniture in collaboration with other design professionals.

“Kaitlin’s level of enthusiasm is unparalleled in the classroom. She is hungry to learn and explore design solutions, and she consistently seeks feedback from her peers and instructors in an effort to create a thorough solution that is considered from a variety of lenses,” says Assistant Professor and Interior Design Program Chair Tara McCrackin. “Kaitlin strives to design space that reflects a level of empathy with multiple users. She wants everyone to feel welcome and wants the space to work for all.”

work by Kaitlin O'Connell (click images to view full-size)


Matthew Provoast – Photography (Whittemore, MI)

student Matthew ProvoastMatthew Provoast

During his time in the Photography program, Provoast, who will also graduate with double minors in Graphic Design and Printmaking, served as President of the Kendall Photography Association student organization and worked for the Photography program as a lab assistant. He also started his own successful photography business, Matthew Thomas Provoast Photography.

Upon graduating, Provoast plans to pursue a master’s degree while building his photography business. He also plans on continuing to advocate for the arts in West Michigan by working with local arts organizations

“By honoring Matthew with this award, we recognize his strong dedication to furthering his education both in and outside of the classroom,” says Professor and Photography Program Chair Adam DeKraker. “His level of enthusiasm for art and design – and great conversations – is contagious and felt by everyone in the program. It has been a true pleasure working with Matthew during his tenure at KCAD, and we know he will have an impact on the creative world for years to come.”

work by Matthew Provoast (click images to view full-size)

Gabrielle Schwall – Digital Media (Brunswick, OH)

student Gabrielle SchwallGabrielle Schwall

Outside of excelling in the classroom, Schwall also helped foster the development and success of her fellow students as a tutor in KCAD’s Digital Learning Center.

Upon graduating, she hopes to land a job with a game design studio creating digital characters, props, and environments for console and computer games. Eventually she would like to become the creative director of a well-respected studio.

“In her time at KCAD Gabrielle has always pursued the highest standards and goals. Whether it was in concept design, character art, or 3D design, she has excelled,” says Assistant Professor and Digital Media Program Chair Brad Yarhouse. “She has demonstrated leadership amongst her peers within team projects and has always been willing to share her knowledge with her fellow students. We are proud to have Gabrielle as part of our program. She will be sorely missed.”

work by Gabrielle Schwall (click images to view full-size)


Heather Seto – Furniture Design

student Heather SetoHeather Seto

Outside of her work in the classroom, Seto won the Grand Prize in the 2016 Bienenstock Furniture Design Competition and was twice awarded the prestigious Celia Moh Scholarship. She also undertook internships at the Sustainable Research Group and Haworth, a global furniture manufacturer based in West Michigan.

Seto plans to travel across Europe after graduating in order to broaden her understanding of furniture design from a global perspective. She also hopes to open her own multi-disciplinary design practice that is able to create work in a variety of design disciplines while remaining environmentally conscious and sustainable.

“Heather is the first student in the studio in the morning and last to leave at night, and that includes weekends,” says Associate Professor and Furniture Design Program Chair Gayle DeBruyn. “She is as comfortable in front of the computer as she is working in the wood shop or casting molds in the sculpture studio. Her discipline is unwavering, her drive is focused, and her work seems effortless.

work by Heather Seto (click images to view full-size)


Zihan Wang – Allesee Metals and Jewelry Design (Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, China)

student Zihan WangZihan Wang

Wang came to the United States from Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, China to study at KCAD. During her time in the Allesee Metals and Jewelry Design program, she also had the opportunity to study at the Studio Arts Center International (SACI) in Florence, Italy through KCAD’s study abroad program.

Upon graduating, Wang plans to work in the United States for a few years before continuing her education somewhere in Europe.

“Jewelers tend to struggle with the balance of the expressive and the palatable, the practical and the fantastic. We are technical, formal, theoretical, and utilitarian – trying to make original, marketable, virtuous things in one of the oldest material traditions of our species. In her time with us, I have seen few students cut and polish each of these facets as skillfully as Zihan,” says Professor and Allesee Metals and Jewelry Design Program Chair Phil Renato.

work by Zihan Wang (click images to view full-size)


Fan Wu – Illustration (Beijing, China)

student Fan WuFan Wu

Wu, originally from Beijing, China, made the decision to move to Grand Rapids and attend KCAD during his senior year of high school. In addition to excelling in his classwork, he was one of only four students nationwide to win a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Student Illustrator Scholarship in 2014, and won a Bronze ADDY in the 2016 American Advertising Federation West Michigan ADDY Awards.

Upon graduating, Wu plans to remain in American to further his own illustration practice. He hopes to eventually live and work in New York City.

“It has been a pleasure to work with Fan and watch the progress of this gifted artist. Fan has mastered every technique I taught, and has always gone above and beyond in any assignment he’s been given,” said Professor and Illustration Program Chair Jon McDonald. “Other students would marvel at the skillful and clever way Fan solved problems. He always shared the incredible success that he had as an illustrator, and students and teachers looked up to him as a kind and professional artist.”

work by Fan Wu (click images to view full-size)


The 2016 Excellence Award winners will be recognized at an official ceremony on May 6, and their best work will be on display during KCAD’s annual Excellence Awards Exhibition (May 3-21), 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 Master of Fine Arts and Master of Architecture Thesis Exhibitions (May 3-21), spotlighting the fully developed work of the students who have completed their graduate studies. KCAD’s Annual Student Exhibition (May 3-7), featuring work from each of the college’s programs, will encompass all floors of the 17 Fountain St. Building and Woodbridge N. Ferris Building.

All exhibitions are free and open to the public. For more information, visit kcad.edu/galleries.

Congratulations once again to all of these amazing students - we can’t wait to see what your future holds!