Celebrating 60 Years of Successful Alumni

 

UConn's School of Fine Arts turns 60 this year! To celebrate, we are highlighting 60 successful SFA graduates who all have successful careers in a range of different fields. Browse our alumni and learn more as we celebrate our brilliant past and look to a bright future.

Chriselle Almeida

Chriselle Almeida – ’02

Profession: Actor

Major: Fine Arts (Acting)

Department: Dramatic Arts

Accomplishments: Guest Star on Chuck Lorre’s Emmy Award winning hit TV Sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” Guest Star across Geena Davis on Shonda Rhimes’s Emmy award winning hit Medical TV Drama “Grey’s Anatomy,” Working with Director Michael Patrick King and the four leading actors in the Sex and the City 2 Movie as well as with Kiera Knightly in the Miramax film “Last Night”

About Chriselle: After getting her BFA in Acting from UConn, Chriselle worked in Theatre Off Broadway and booked her first TV role on “Gossip Girl.” She moved soon after to Los Angeles and has been working steadily since on hit shows like “Shameless” across William H Macy, “Melissa and Joey,” “Days of Our Lives,” Disney’s “Coop and Cami Ask the World” and most recently was seen on Mindy Kaling’s hit Netflix show “Never Have I Ever.” Chriselle has also written 5 screenplays and has won an award for her writing (New York Script Awards, Best First-Time Screen Writer Short, Winner, 2021).

Thoughts on SFA: “UConn’s School of Fine Arts taught me that solid training in the Classics, Voice and Diction and Movement will set you apart. I am thankful for all my professors and grateful that I got to work at CRT and gain points towards my Equity card. Attending UConn’s School of Fine Arts was the best first step I took in my career as an Actor!”

Learn more: Twitter: @chriselleacts

Michael Astrachan

Michael Astrachan – ’87

Profession: President XVIVO Scientific Animation

Major: Fine Art

Department: Art & Art History

Accomplishments: U.S. Senator Chris Murphy Highlights XVIVO as Innovator of the Month (Dec. 2021), XVIVO’s mRNA animation recognized as “BEST. VIDEO. ALL. YEAR” by Dr. Eric Feigl Ding, Delivered commencement speech to the UConn’s School of Fine Arts 2015

About Michael: Michael has been fortunate to be involved in the Arts his entire life. From studying fine art and design at UConn, to furthering his education and learning the academic method after graduating – he has always sought to gather artistic knowledge. He was an airbrush artist and illustrator back in the 80s and 90s and in 2001, Michael founded XVIVO Scientific Animation, a Medical Animation Company. The company works across a wide range of scientific disciplines to create custom medical animations, illustrations, and virtual reality programs for biotech, pharmaceutical and educational institutions.

Thoughts on SFA: The thing I learned from SFA that I use the most in my career is to stay curious and to keep learning. The rigor taught at SFA imparted a knowledge that being an artist is a life-long pursuit.

Learn more: Facebook: Michael Astrachan, Instagram: @xvivoscientificanimation, Twitter: @xvivo, LinkedIn: Michael Astrachan

Juanita Austin

Juanita Austin – ’15

Profession: Curator & Cultural Producer

Major: Digital Media and Design (Interactive Media Design)

Department: Digital Media & Design

Accomplishments: Launching the arts group Cultured AF, CT Entrepreneur Award for Best Space 2021, Curator for NAPPY Exhibition at Connecticut College, 2021

About Juanita: Juanita Austin is a curator and cultural producer, born and raised in New London, Connecticut and now residing in New Haven. She has served as a leader on many grassroots community arts initiatives and now runs her own arts group, Cultured AF, who won the 2021 CT Entrepreneur Award for Best Space for her art space, Cultured Studios. Her work centers on supporting underrepresented artists, particularly Black and Queer folks, and creating safe and equitable spaces for those artists to thrive. Juanita’s work has built bridges with arts communities across the state and strongly passionate about creating experiences that bring art into everyone’s lives. She is currently the Producer for New Haven’s International Festival of Arts and Ideas.

Thoughts on SFA: “The School of Fine Arts and particularly the DMD program gave me the skills to be able to launch my own creative venture. I use both the hard skills and softs skills that I gained from the program every day in my work, whether it’s my own creative projects or at my job. I’m grateful for the practical experience I was able to gain and I am proud to be a UConn SFA alumna.”

Learn More: www.curatornita.com, Instagram: cutrato.nita, LinkedIn: Juanita Austin 

Peter Barberie

Peter Barberie – ’93

Profession: Curator

Major: Art History

Department: Art & Art History

Accomplishments: Received an MA and Ph.D in the History of Photography and Modern Art from Princeton University, Oversaw the transfer of nearly 3,000 Paul Strand photographs from the Aperture Foundation to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2010), Edited six books and written numerous articles on the history of photography

About Peter: Peter Barberie is the Brodsky Curator of Photographs, Alfred Stieglitz Center, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Since 2005 he has curated more than twenty exhibitions, including major surveys of the artists David Lebe, Paul Strand, and Zoe Strauss, and the art dealer and collector Julien Levy.

Thoughts on SFA: “The School of Fine Arts gave me two great gifts. First was the opportunity to study art history in a dynamic art school, alongside artists and performers who were working creatively. Second was exposure to smart and generous professors who provoked me to think way beyond my experiences at that point in life. Among several thrilling professors, Joyce Brodsky and Bill Parker especially impacted how I think about the world. I still return to conversations we had.”

Learn More: Instagram: @peterbarberie

Suzanne Bona

Suzanne Bona – ’85

Profession: Radio Producer/Host and Musician

Major: Music (Flute Performance)

Department: Music

Accomplishments: Performed at the Mendelssohn House Museum in Leipzig as part of a Sunday Baroque tour in Oct. 2018, Founding Sunday Baroque radio program (now syndicated) in 1987, Organizing concerts to raise funds to combat low literacy in communities

About Suzanne: For almost 35 years, Suzanne has been a radio broadcaster of classical music programming, including roles as Program Director, Music Director, and Producer. Since 1998, she has been the host and executive producer of the nationally syndicated radio program Sunday Baroque, currently heard on 242 stations nationwide. Suzanne also continues to be an actively performing chamber musician and soloist.

Thoughts on SFA: “It’s hard to adequately describe the full impact UConn’s School of Fine Arts had on me. Most of all, I learned how to research and how to learn, which has been tremendously important in my career.”

Learn More: www.sundaybaroque.com, Facebook: Sunday Baroque, Instagram: Sunday_Baroque, Twitter: Sunday_Baroque

Kathryn Bowden

Kathryn Bowden – ’10

Profession: Opera Singer and Voice Teacher

Major: Opera Singer and Voice Teacher

Department: Music

Accomplishments: Metropolitan Opera debut, San Francisco Opera debut, Carnegie Hall debut

About Kathryn: Kathryn Bowden has been making her way through the opera world singing the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. The role has served as a vehicle for her debut at several large opera houses around the company. When she is not on contract, Kathryn teaches voice lessons in Connecticut.

Thoughts on SFA: “The most important thing I learned at the School of Fine Arts is that vocal health is important above all else! Take the best care of yourself so you can make the best music!”

Learn More: www.kathrynbowdensoprano.com, Facebook: Kathryn Bowden, Soprano, Instagram: @kathrynbowdensoprano

Brian Charette

Brian Charette – ’94

Profession: Musician

Major: BFA (Piano)

Department: Music

Accomplishments: 2014 Downbeat Rising Star: Organ, #3 2021 Downbeat Critic’s Poll: Organ, 2015 Best Organist in NYC from Hot House Magazine

About Dan: Brian Charette is a Hammond and IK Multimedia endorsed, SteepleChase and Posi-Tone recording artist, currently #3 of the Downbeat Critic’s Poll, The 2014 Downbeat Rising Star, and 2015 Best Organist in NYC from Hothouse Magazine. He also performs with many well known jazz artists like NEA master George Coleman and pop icons like Chaka Khan.

Thoughts on SFA: I had incredible professors that made me curious about everything musical. We also had award winning bands that gave me the confidence to pursue my own groups.

Learn more: Website: BrianCharette.com, Facebook: Brian Charette, Instagram: @pinchbrian

Dan K. Chen

Dan K. Chen – ’07

Profession: Prototyping Engineer

Major: Studio Art (Communication Design)

Department: Art & Art History

Accomplishments: TEDx Vienna and TEDx Bologna Speaker, Currently working at Oculus FRL

About Dan: Dan is an interaction designer with several years of software and hardware prototyping and production experience. He communicates his ideas through working prototypes, design research insights, exploring new ways of user interactions. He has several degrees including a MAS from MIT, an MFA in digital media from RISD and a BFA in communication design from UConn. He has over 13 years of design experience. This includes past experience at MIT Lifelong Kindergarten as an industrial designer and mechanical engineer, and Johnson & Johnson as Senior Interaction Designer. Senior Interaction Designer at IDEO. His work has been featured in CNET, The Huffington Post, the verge, Engadget, Mashable and Daily Mail. Dan was invited as a speaker at TEDx Vienna and TEDx Bologna. His work was exhibited in Vitra Design Museum, MAK Wien, Design Museum Gent, Seoul Museum of Art & Ars Electronica. Working in the realms of interaction design and product design, Dan explores the new ways of interaction and communication through working prototypes and storytelling, inviting a reflective evaluation and implication.

Thoughts on SFA: “UConn SFA helped me develop strong communication skills which aid in all aspects of my life – from professional life to personal life and everything that falls in between.”

Learn more: danchen.me

Lisa Clayton

Lisa Clayton – ’97

Profession: Music Educator, Clinician, Gospel Music Artist

Major: Music Performance (Opera)

Department: Music

Accomplishments: UConn Freshman Honor Society’s Teacher of the Year marking the first time this award went to a graduate assistant rather than a professor; Teacher of the Year, Martin Luther King Elementary School in Hartford, CT; First ever Connectional Coordinator of Music for the nearly one million membered denomination, The Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

About Lisa: Lisa Clayton is a celebrated music teacher, teaching at the Hartford Seminary, the Hartford Public School system and the University of Connecticut. She has taught in each of these institutions for over 20 years. She is a sought after Gospel Music Clinician, composer and Gospel Music Artist,.

Thoughts on SFA: “I have learned so much from the SFA, but I believe it is summarized in this quote: ‘Success is the maximum utilization of the ability that you have.'”

Learn more: Facebook: Lisa Clayton Music Page, Instagram: @lisaclayton123, Twitter: @lisaclayton123

Michelle H. Craig

Michelle H. Craig – ’01

Profession: Professor of Art History

Major: Art History

Department: Art & Art History

Accomplishments: Co-curator for “About Face: Toussaint Louverture and the African-American Image” at the Milwaukee Art Museum, Academic and Reviews Editor for the International Journal of Islamic Architecture, National Endowment for the Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow at the Getty Research Institute

About Michelle: After graduating from UConn, Michelle earned her M.A. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her Ph.D. at the University of California, Los Angeles and is currently associate professor of art history at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo, CA. She has worked for, advised, or collaborated with the Benton Museum of Art, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Chazen Museum of Art, the Milwaukee Art Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. Michelle joined Cuesta College after teaching at Santa Monica College, UCLA, Loyola Marymount University, The City College of New York, and Eastern Connecticut State University. She presents and publishes on African and Islamic art histories, particularly art and photography in Fez, Morocco, as well as trans-Saharan art and architecture.

Thoughts on SFA: “The School of Fine Arts gave me the tools to be an effective scholar, educator, and mentor. I would not have obtained my position as a Photo Archivist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art without the support of SFA mentors. Now a professor, I find myself giving my students the same guidance given to me by SFA faculty. One alumna just told me that this feedback has been the most helpful advice of her collegiate career. I am so grateful for my experiences in the Department of Art and Art History.”

Scott DaRos

Scott DaRos – ’07

Profession: Animation Director

Major: Studio Art (Illustration and Animation)

Department: Art & Art History

Accomplishments: 2016 Primetime Emmy: Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation, 2018 Primetime Emmy: Outstanding Short Form Animated Program (Co-Animation Director), 2018 Primetime Emmy: Outstanding Short Form Animated Program (Co-Animation Director), Launching Threadwood LLC with Alexis Deprey and having a successful first year

About Scott: Scott is a stop-motion animation professional who has worked on various television and commercial projects in Los Angeles over the last 10 years as an animator, animation director, and director. His passion is creating unique and convincing characters and performances using frame-by-frame animation techniques like traditional stop-motion, clay animation, and 2D animation. Scott recently relocated to upstate New York with his wife and fellow UConn SFA Alum, Alexis Deprey, where the couple started their own stop-motion animation company called, Threadwood.

Thoughts on SFA: “The School of Fine Arts gave me the connections to start my career, and the confidence and artistic skills to excel.”

Learn more: www.threadwood.com; Twitter: @_threadwood; Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Threadwood; Instagram: @threadwood

Alexis Deprey

Alexis Deprey – ’09

Profession: Production Designer & Art Director

Major: Studio Art (Illustration and Animation)

Minor: French & Psychology

Department: Art & Art History

Accomplishments: 2018 Primetime Emmy: Outstanding Short Form Animated Program (Art Director), 2016 Primetime Emmy: Outstanding Short Form Animated Program (Art Director), Launching Threadwood LLC with Scott DaRos and having a successful first year

About Alexis: Alexis is a freelance stop-motion professional who has worked as a fabricator, art director and production designer on many projects in television and commercials over the last 10 years. She also owns and runs a boutique stop-motion animation studio with her husband, Scott DaRos, in upstate New York called Threadwood. Her love for supporting artists and sharing knowledge led her to co-found and organize Animation Wild Card – a place for animation professionals to showcase their own work in short anthology episodes.

Thoughts on SFA: “The School of Fine Arts prepared me as a well rounded, multidisciplinary artist who could pick up and translate my materials and technical skills learned in school to my future job prospects as a stop-motion artist.”

Learn more: www.threadwood.com; Twitter: @_threadwood; Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Threadwood; Instagram: @threadwood

Mira Dessy

Mira Dessy – ’94

Profession: Nutrition Educator

Major: Fine Arts

Concentration:Stage Management

Minor: English

Department: Dramatic Arts

Accomplishments: Published author – The Pantry Principle: how to read the label and understand what’s really in your food, National speaker on health and wellness topics

About Mira: Mira Dessy is The Ingredient Guru. A holistic nutrition professional, author, and a popular public speaker, she knows that it’s not just what you eat, but what’s in what you eat. Mira is a Board Certified Holistic Health Practitioner who has been working with clients for over 15 years helping clients with chronic health issues find nourishing solutions for wellness.

Thoughts on SFA:“The School of Fine Arts was immensely helpful in teaching me to think outside the box, look for creative solutions to challenges, and it taught me how to communicate clearly with diverse groups of people.”

Learn more: Website: TheIngredientGuru.com, Facebook: Mira Dessy, Instagram: @theingredientguru, Twitter: @MiraDessy, LinkedIn: Mira Dessy

Angelica Durrell

Angelica Durrell – ’11

Profession: Founder and Executive Director, INTEMPO

Major: Violin Performance

Department: Music

Accomplishments: Led first international tour of UConn’s Collegium Musicum Ensemble to Ecuador, Performed with Jesús Fichamba for Pope Francis’ first visit to Ecuador in 2015, Performed the national anthem at a UConn Women’s Basketball while studying at UConn

About Angelica: Angelica Durrell is an Ecuadorian-born violinist, educator and social entrepreneur. She is the Founder and Executive Director of INTEMPO, an intercultural organization that strives to make classical music and native instruments relevant, accessible and inclusive through innovative youth development and community engagement programs. She began her musical studies at the National Conservatory of Music in Quito at age six, continuing them in the Norwalk Public Schools under the direction of her father, David Durrell.
She has served on local and national art grants panels, including the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures, State of Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, the Rasmuson Foundation in Alaska, among others. She has had speaking engagements at the University of Michigan, Princeton University’s Keller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, Harvard Business School Community Partners, Hartt School of Music, and at the University of Connecticut. Her recent TEDx talk has been acclaimed for creating institutional awareness and action towards cultural equity and representation.
Angie holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Violin Performance from the University of Connecticut, which awarded her a full talent-based scholarship from the Louis and Sylvia Lazar Endowment for the Arts. Angie says that this scholarship enabled her to graduate debt-free and pursue a career in the arts. She resides in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Thoughts on SFA: “The School of Fine Arts taught met to appreciate myself as an artist and a musician and to continue carrying on my culture in the educational and community work that I do now. I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the Puerto Rican and Latin American Cultural Center (PRLACC) at UConn who helped me build confidence and a sense of belonging at UConn.”

Learn More: intempo.org

Alexandra Eckhardt

Alexandra Eckhardt – ’11

Profession: Bassist & Music Supervisor for Film

Major: Music (Jazz Performance / Music Education)

Department: Music

Accomplishments: Music Supervisor for ‘Passing’ (Netflix film dir. by Rebecca Hall, starring Tessa Thompson); Acoustic & electric bassist for Tony Award-winning Best New Musical The Band’s Visit, as well as its Grammy-winning Best Original Broadway Soundtrack; Music Coordinator for “Spirited,” a new Christmas musical film for Apple starring Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds, premiering on AppleTV+ in 2022.

About Kathryn: Music Supervisor and Bassist, Alexandra Eckhardt, has worked across the entertainment industry contributing her skills to feature films, award-winning Broadway shows, and live performances. Between playing with Sara Bareilles on Late Night with Stephen Colbert, performing on NPR’s Tiny Desk web series with Tony & Grammy Award-winning Broadway show, The Band’s Visit, and being an in-demand session and Broadway musician, Alex has cultivated a multifaceted career as a professional bass player. Additionally, she has used her experiences as a musician to add music supervision for film to her arsenal, having worked on both independent and big budgeted films, including “Passing” (Netflix) starring Tessa Thompson and “Spirited” (AppleTV+) starring Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds.

Thoughts on SFA: “The thing I learned from the School of Fine Arts that I use the most in my career is to be versatile, pro-active, and prepared for any opportunity.”

Learn More: www.alex-eckhardt.com, Instagram: @al_eckhardt, Facebook: Alex Eckhardt, Twitter: @aee_music, LinkedIn: Alexandra Eckhardt

Martin Hebel

Martin Hebel – ’15

Profession: Composer

Major: Composition & Trumpet (Double Degree)

Department: Music

Accomplishments: 2020 recipient of the Presser Foundation’s Graduate Music Award, Four published albums (discography published by Ablaze Records and Centaur Records), Six-time American Prize winner

About Martin: Six-time American Prize winner and 2020 recipient of the Presser Foundation’s Graduate Music Award, Martin Hebel composes expressive, emotionally direct concert music engaging the diverse challenges of today’s global community. His portfolio features socially-conscious compositions exploring shared human experiences like introspection, perception, and conflict, including instrumental and vocal chamber music, orchestral and wind ensemble works, and multi-media compositions involving video projection and electronics. With discography published by Ablaze Records and Centaur Records, Martin Hebel has collaborated with ensembles across the U.S. and Europe, currently serving as Visiting Faculty of Music Theory at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and Adjunct Instructor of Advanced Orchestration at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Thoughts on SFA: “The School of Fine Arts opened the world of music composition to me and enabled me to pursue my career.”

Learn More: www.martinhebel.com 

Bernie Kukoff

Bernie Kukoff – ’54

*Graduated before SFA was founded* 

Profession: Writer & Producer

Major: Speech Drama (Theater Performance)

Department: Dramatic Arts

Accomplishments: Mystery Writer’s Of America Edgar Award (1976)-Writer; Drama Desk Award (1996)–Producer; Outer Critics Circle Award (2006)-Producer; Lucile Lortel Award (2008) -Producer

About Bernie: After graduating from UConn and The Yale School of Drama, Bernie  acted off-Broadway, with Second City and five seasons at the Williamstown Theater Festival. He later moved to LA where he created, produced and wrote various TV series, specials and films over a period of 28 years—among them: Diff’rent Strokes, The Cosby Show, and shows starring Steve Allen, Jimmy Durante, Milton Berle, Jerry Stiller, Glen Campbell, Everly Brothers, Howard Cosell. Bernie’s credits also include the films Johnny Dangerously and Lt. Shuster’s Wife ( Edgar Award) and New York Theater productions I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (Drama Desk); Over the River and Through the Woods; The Thing About Men (Outer Critics Circle);  All Shook Up and Dai (Lucile Lortel Award).

Thoughts on SFA: “The Thing I learned from SFA that I use the most in my career was to persist, to stay with it, ie…getting into Yale, (a model for my highly competitive business.) Of great help was the wisdom and encouragement of my SFA mentor, Dr. Cecil Hinkel.”

Jean Marie Keevins

Jean Marie Keevins – ’99

Profession: Life Coach and Puppet Artist

Major: Theater Studies (Puppet Arts)

Department: Dramatic Arts

Accomplishments: Emmy Nominated Puppet Supervisor on Apple TV+’s “Helpsters,” Multi-Award Winning Theatrical Producer, Associate Artistic Director of the National Puppetry Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center

About Jean Marie: Jean Marie Keevins is an Emmy-nominated, award-winning creative executive, artist and coach, who has balanced the majority of her career life between the entertainment world and working with C-Suite executives in the financial world. Her production company, Little Shadow Productions, has produced unique works of puppet theater that have toured the country and been presented Off-Broadway. With over 20 years experience in storytelling, she now splits her time between creating new works of theater and support clients in crafting their own new narratives through her coaching practice.

Thoughts on SFA: “The most important thing I learned at UConn School of Fine Arts is that your creative community won’t just lead you to water, they’ll help you fish and cheer on your efforts no matter what ends up in your net. Just keep casting out your ideas.”

Learn More: JeanMarieKeevins.com, LittleShadowProductions.com; Facebook: Little Shadow Productions ; Instagram: @JeanMarieNY; LinkedIn: Jean Marie Keevins

Forrest McClendon

Forrest McClendon – ’89

Profession: Actor and Educator

Major: Music (Vocal Performance)

Department: Music

Accomplishments: Tony Nomination, “The Scottsboro Boys;” Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship for Top Regional Actors; Two-time Barrymore Award Winner

About Forrest: Forrest McClendon is an educator and internationally acclaimed performer, with credits from Broadway to the West End as well as throughout the US, most recently appearing this past fall as Depression in the hit new play, “Thoughts of a Colored Man.” Among numerous visiting professorships, Forrest recently served as Visiting Associate Professor of Practice at the University of Miami and Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Hartford. He has been on the faculty of the National Theatre Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center since 2015 and is a frequent Connecticut Repertory Theatre Guest Artist.

Thoughts on SFA: “The thing I learned from SFA that I use the most in my career is my devotion to practice as an actor and singer, as well as my knowledge of vocal anatomy/physiology.”

Learn More: www.ForrestMcClendon.com, Facebook: Forrest McClendon, Instagram:@thefauxrest, Twitter: @ForrestMcClend1

Alexxis Murray

Alexxis Murray – ’14, ’16

Profession: Senior User Experience Designer

Major: BFA Studio Art / MFA Digital Media & Design (Communication Design)

Department: Digital Media & Design

Accomplishments: Business Intelligence Group BIG Innovation Award (2017), Former lead designer for the Cigna Wellness/Resilience Challenges, Former Adjunct Professor for Digital Media & Design

About Alexxis: Alexxis has worked as an Innovation Designer at Cigna, an Adjunct Professor at the Digital Media & Design school, and is currently a Senior UX Designer at the Jackson Laboratory. In her first year at Cigna, she helped design a breast cancer application that won a BIG Innovation Award (2017), and is passionate about finding ways for people to connect with technology and their own health. Her current role focuses on improving/expanding the visibility of the Jackson Laboratory, an international non-profit dedicated to disease research, via their web presence. In her limited spare time, she has a small side business creating wedding invitations for friends and family.

Thoughts on SFA: “The most important thing I learned at the School of Fine Arts is how to deal with ambiguity and remain flexible in your creativity. Working with clients, there are often conflicting visions and more than one way to solve a problem. Keeping the spirit of creativity flowing while also collaborating effectively is essential to the work we do outside of the classroom, and was reflected in many of the projects I was given over my time at the SFA.”

Learn More: LinkedIn: Alexxis Murray   Instagram: alexxismurray

Eric Panke

Eric Panke – ’93

Profession: Creative Director

Major: Fine Arts (Graphic Design)

Minor: Painting

Department: Art & Art History

Accomplishments: Recognized for outstanding work by Print Regional Design Annual, New England Hatch Awards, Telly Awards, Webby Awards, WMA/IAC Awards, CT Art Directors Club and The Advertising Club of CT; Worked as an illustrator worked for NFL, Entertainment Weekly, Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone, Warner Music, ESPN and espnW; Artist in residence at the Wimbledon Hospitality House, 2018 Wimbledon Championships, London, England

About Eric: A life-long Connecticut resident, Eric is a creative director, art director, copywriter and illustrator, born and raised in Bloomfield, CT. He now resides in Milldale, CT with this wife, Elizabeth Panke (SFA ‘93) and two children. Eric has been a highly respected and award-winning member of the Connecticut advertising and design community for nearly 30 years. He has helped create memorable work for a long list of brands including: Mohegan Sun, Olympic Stains, Konica Minolta, CT Lottery, Garelick Farms, Pfizer, the Hartford Courant, the Connecticut Sun of the WNBA, and the Connecticut Office of Tourism.

As an illustrator, Eric has had the opportunity to work with the NFL, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, Entertainment Weekly, Warner Music, ESPN and espnW. He presently holds the title of “Creative Director, Digital” at Adams & Knight in Avon, CT.

Thoughts on SFA: “The thing I learned from SFA that I still use every day in my career is that risk-taking can, and will, produce failures. Big, ugly failures. And that’s okay. It’s part of the process. The pushing of creative boundaries is not a science. There is no formula. The artist lives in a sea of missteps and false starts. That’s why the successes burn so brightly. PLUS, living all the way across campus during my time at Storrs, I discovered the mental health benefits of a good, long walk. Thanks, SFA!”

Learn More: Instagram: @twopank, LinkedIn: Eric Panke

Dan Rousseau

Dan Rousseau – ’08

Profession: Event Space Design Manager

Major: Fine Arts (Design/Theatre Tech)

Department: Dramatic Arts

Accomplishments: 2012 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lighting Direction & Scenic Design, NBC News: Decision 2012 Election Night from Democracy Plaza; 2016 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lighting Direction & Scenic Design, The 10th Annual CNN Heroes All-Star Tribute; 2019 Emmy Nomination for Outstanding Lighting Direction & Scenic Design, CNN NY Hudson Yards Studio 19Y New Day and Cuomo Prime Time⁣

About Dan: Dan has been an Emmy award-winning broadcast lighting designer for the last 14 years. In 2022, he joined Charcoalblue and the CBX team as an Event Space Design Manager focusing on consulting work at Google.

Thoughts on SFA: “The School of Fine Arts taught me a wide variety of skills beyond my focus in lighting design preparing me to adapt and mold my future.”

Learn More: LinkedIn: Dan Rousseau; Instagram: @danthelightingman

Robin Simon

Robin Simon – ’17

Profession: Content Producer, Twitter Inc.

Major: Digital Media & Design (3D Animation & Visualization)

Department: Digital Media & Design

Accomplishments: Twitter Marketing Perspective Piece “Content Trends to Get Brands Inspired,” Moderator for #TheCreatorSessions

About Robin: As a Content Producer, Robin helps brands craft Twitter-first content that moves people. Focused on the optimization of creative assets for the Twitter platform, her work helps inform latest best practices and drive innovation across Twitter’s suite of ad products. Her work has spanned hundreds of clients in the US and around the world.

Thoughts on SFA: “UConn School of Fine Arts taught me that learning happens equally inside and outside of the classroom. From internal internships focused on bringing to life new techniques like projection mapping and motion capture, to external work for Boston Children’s Hospital I was constantly inspired to push beyond the classroom to drive innovation with my peers.”

Learn More: Twitter: @robonthestreet

Kelly Walters

Kelly Walters – ’10

Profession: Designer and Professor

Major: Studio Art (Communication Design)

Department: Art & Art History

Accomplishments: Author of Black, Brown + Latinx Design Educators: Conversations on Design + Race (2021), Co-Editor and Creative Director of The Black Experience in Design: Identity, Expression & Reflection (2022), 2021 Graham Foundation Awardee, 2021–2022 Mellon Faculty Fellow for Inclusive Excellence, 2015–2016 Association of Independent Colleges of Art & Design (AICAD) Post-Graduate Teaching Fellow

About Kelly: Kelly Walters is a designer, educator and founder of the multidisciplinary design studio Bright Polka Dot. Her ongoing design research interrogates the complexities of identity formation, systems of value and the shared vernacular in and around Black visual culture. She has previously taught at the University of Bridgeport, California College of the Arts, Central Saint Martins and the University of Connecticut. Kelly is currently an Assistant Professor of Communication Design and the Associate Director of the BFA Communication Design Program in Parsons School of Design at The New School.

Thoughts on SFA: “As I reflect back to when I was student at UCONN and in particular within the School of Fine Arts, I am reflective of my time studying as a Communication Design student in the department of Art + Art History. My current research and design practice has very much been informed by my undergraduate Senior thesis which was entitled “Black” and this laid the foundation for so much of what I am doing now. Outside of being in the art program, I was also a member of the UCONN Marching Band (shout out to the Clarinet section) and pretty much went to every football game. I am appreciative of the variety of creative experiences I had during my time in SFA.”

Learn More: brightpolkadot.com, Instagram: @brightpolkadot, Twitter: @brightpolkadot

Hua-Hua-Zhang

Hua Hua Zhang – ’00

Profession: Artistic Director

Major: Dramatic Arts (Puppet Arts)

Department: Dramatic Arts

Accomplishments: Awards Hero In The Arts – Arts Champion Award from Young Audience in Learning (YANJ & PA) [2021]; Best Creativity Award Production of Butterfly Dreams, UNIMA Congress & World Puppet Festival (Chengdu, China)

About Hua Hua: Since 2002, Hua Hua Zhang has been the President and Artistic Director of her own production company, Visual Expressions, and her vision of puppetry is without boundary or limits. Drawing from her Asian cultural heritage and training in both Eastern and Western, she has written, directed, and performed over a dozen original contemporary puppet shows, collaborating with internationally renowned musicians and dancers to achieve unique creations ranging from fully staged theatrical productions to gallery style art installations. In addition to performing, Hua Hua carries out professional training and workshops in puppetry, dance, theater, and Chinese calligraphy for students ranging from elementary aged through adults.

Thoughts on SFA: “Studying at the UConn School of Fine Arts in the Puppet Arts Program opened up my vision for the creation of art. I received a very solid foundation for my future career. I was very fortunate to meet three special mentors who shared their rich experience in the practice of art — these mentors are Puppet Artist Bart Roccoberton, Theater Costume Designer Laura Crow, and Choreographer/Dancer Jean Sabatine. I learned so much from each them. Thank you, SFA faculty, for making me who I am.”

Learn More: www.visualexpressions.org

Jeff Wamester

Jeff Wamester – ’00

Profession: Animation Director, Storyboard Artist, Art Director, Concept Artist and Character Designer

Major: Fine Arts (Illustration)

Department: Art & Art History

Accomplishments: Successfully launched own property/graphic novel “Electropunk” on Kickstarter with over 150% funding

About Jeff: After graduating from UConn with a BFA, Jeff worked as a freelance illustrator and comicbook artist for top companies such as Topcow, DC and Marvel. After a few years he moved into animation, specializing in storyboarding and principle character design for shows like Ultimate Spiderman, Avengers Assemble and Guardians of the Galaxy. Then shortly after, he moved into a position as an Episodic Director for Guardians of the Galaxy, the animated series before moving the WB animation as a feature DTV director. In his spare time, when Jeff is not working on his graphic novel “Electropunk” he freelances as a story artist, concept artist and illustrator for a variety of entertainment companies including Disney, Marvel, Film Roman, Bento Box, Fox and Riot Games.

Thoughts on SFA: The most important thing I learned at SFA is that anything is possible in this field, just continue to pursue the dream as a creative and you can learn any skill you need to learn to achieve it!

Learn more: Website: jeffwamester.com, Facebook: Jeff Wamester, Instagram: @jeffwamester, Twitter: @jeffwamester