Life Sciences and Pre-Medical Illustration Student Sophia Forystek Named 2024 KCAD Valedictorian

Posted May 2, 2024 in Student, Commencement, Life Sciences and Pre-Medical Illustration

Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University is pleased to recognize Life Sciences and Pre-Medical Illustration major Sophia Forystek as the valedictorian of the class of 2024.

Forystek, a graduate of Lake Orion High School in Lake Orion, Mich., is the first student from the Life Sciences and Pre-Medical Illustration to be selected as valedictorian.

A headshot of a woman with black hair in a ponytail wearing a black sweater and smiling into the camera2024 KCAD valedictorian Sophia Forystek

“I was honestly shocked. It's such an incredible honor,” Forystek said. “It makes me feel abundantly loved to be held in such high regard.”

The pre-professional program—established in 2014—blends artistic instruction with scientific exploration, preparing students for a high-demand career with the potential to change lives, improve health, and enhance medical education and health care. According to the Association of Medical Illustrators, the employment outlook for medical illustrators and related positions is poised to continue its upward trajectory due to the highly specialized nature of the work and the relatively low number of new professionals graduating each year.

As they strengthen their core creative and visual communication skills at KCAD, students in the Life Sciences and Pre-Medical program are also growing their scientific knowledge through histology and gross anatomy classes at MSU—as well as biology, cellular biology, pathophysiology, and medical terminology courses at Ferris State University and Grand Rapids Community College. 

A medical illustration of a uterus"Ectopic Pregnancy" by Sophia Forystek

The program was a perfect fit for Forystek, who was originally pursuing a degree in nursing when the challenges of studying healthcare online during the pandemic led her to reconsider her path. After learning about the Life Sciences and Pre-Medical Illustration degree at KCAD, she realized that she could combine her lifelong love of art with her knowledge of anatomy, forging a career that merges STEM with the creative arts.

“Communication is key in health care, and most people can relate to the feeling of being in a doctor's office and not fully knowing what they’re talking about. You get overwhelmed easily when you don’t feel educated enough to make your own decisions,” Forystek said. “I really want to be involved with making it easier for practitioners and patients to communicate."

With rapid advancements in medical research, technology, and treatments along with growing representation of diversity in patient education, the career forecast is strong, and KCAD alumni are well prepared to continue their education at the graduate level to meet this growing demand.

A medical illustration of the sphenoid"Anatomy of the Sphenoid" by Sophia Forystek 

“I’m incredibly pleased to see Sophia honored as valedictorian,” said Life Sciences and Pre-Medical Illustration Program Chair Kevin Brennan. “Her work serves as a great example of what can be done in this diverse field.”

Brennan noted that Forystek’s time at KCAD has been marked by a number of high-profile accomplishments, including her work “Medial View of the Knee,” which was displayed at the international AMI conference and accepted into the juried 2023 Guild of Natural Science Illustrators Member’s Exhibit. Her “Lateral View of the Newborn Skull and Vertebral Column" depicting the bones and spinal structure of an infant, was also featured in the 2023 AMI Salon. Another illustration of the role of tetracycline antibiotics in brain tissue protection in ischemic stroke, developed in collaboration with the Director of the Stony Brook Neurosciences Institute, will soon be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

A medical illustration of a human knee"Medial View of the Knee" by Sophia Forystek

Forystek was also accepted to undertake a student fellowship at the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute during the summer of 2023. There, she was immersed in the institute’s vast natural environment, making careful observations of the natural world, and creating art inspired by her findings. She also collaborated with researchers and other artists to curate a group exhibition and publication showcasing their efforts.

While Forystek says she loves the intention that goes into drawing and the “hours and hours of time figuring out colors, shapes, and textures,” communication has become a priority in her work and will be the focus of her valedictorian speech. She says, “At the end of the day, people don't always want a huge, pretty picture. Medical illustration is a form of communication, and doctors are looking for projects that relay information as quickly as possible.”

A medical illustration of a newborn infant's skull and vertebral column"Lateral View of a Newborn Skull and Vertebral Column" by Sophia Forystek

Following graduation, she is taking time to recharge in nature and finalizing pieces for her portfolio, with plans to apply to graduate programs in medical illustration this fall. She says her last semester at KCAD taught her the most about what she had yet to learn.

“Now it’s time for me to go explore those things, correct them, and continue networking and learning from other people,” she says. “I learned that I have much more to learn, and that's the best way to start.”

Work from Sophia Forystek and the rest of the KCAD class of 2024 will be on display during the KCAD Annual Student Exhibition from April 29 through May 4 at the 17 Fountain St. NW building in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with a closing reception on Friday, May 3 from 4-7pm. She will deliver her valedictorian address and receive her degree at the KCAD Commencement ceremony on May 4.

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