AIGA Central PA Student Portfolio Review

When You Wonder

On the night before the AIGA Student Portfolio Review, I was downtown in Harrisburg with my good friend Jadrian. We both were enjoying the spring evening, eating pizza, while people watching on Second Street. Second Street in Harrisburg is a prime location for people watching. It’s hard not watching folks walk by and wonder what their lives are filled with.

Why does he look stressed?

Why is that kid walking up and down the street?

Why is that guy staring off into space?

Why is she upset on the phone?

Seriously….what the hell is that person wearing??

Maybe I had one too many tasty adult beverages or maybe too much pizza or maybe not enough of both. Whatever the cause, I was mentally preparing for next day while I was people watching. I started to think of the people I would meet tomorrow. Some are colleagues, many will be students. Some I have met before and talked with regularly. Others were only briefly from when I transitioned to being a professional, yet others I never met before. With the students, the vast majority of them I never met before. Instead of trying to guess their stories, I would be able to find out.

Saturday, April 18 marked the 10th Annual AIGA Central PA Student Portfolio Review. For ten years, this chapter has held a professional review for students all across Central Pennsylvania. For myself, this review was extra special. This was the first review that I was a part of where I was the president of the chapter, where more than half of the board was new and were we had one of the highest registered number of students and reviewers we’ve ever had.

You know, no pressure.

And honestly, there wasn’t much pressure at all. The board and I arrived quiet early and met with Nancy Mata of Millersville University to help setup and organize the Atrium and Choral room. I had two awesome student volunteers, Alyssa Dill and Erica Gramm, who worked alongside my girlfriend Amanda to help organize the catering and event logistics. Reviewers and students began to arrive, and early. A few last minute cancellations forced a few of us on the board, originally slated not to review, to review student portfolios. For some of us, the organized chaos we went through in both reviewing portfolios and running the event was a bit hectic, but extremely rewarding.

From mid-morning to mid-afternoon, reviewers from all over the region sat with students and reviewed their work. There were many new faces in the crowd of reviewers this year, and almost all new fresh faced students. We welcomed new sponsors at the event. Dan Libertore of Purpose1 came early and hung out with some of our reviewers. Kevin Wilson from Fresh Roasted Hosting sat with me at my table reviewing student work. Julia Reddy, also from Purpose1, was on hand in the afternoon and met with reviewers. Their involvement and commitment to this event was vital to not only the operation of the event, but the cornerstone value of the chapter that great design is made and happens everywhere, including Central Pennsylvania. They got to see those who produce that great work, and those who will soon be producing great work.

It wasn’t until the afternoon that when I was freed to help facilitate rather than review, that I was able to look around and be reminded of the previous night’s people watching. I looked around and saw reviewers intently looking at portfolios; students giving their presentations or furiously taking notes and that mutual look on each other faces when they were both jiving to what each other were saying, one giving advice and one taking it in. I looked around the room and started to wander.

What was it that that reviewer just saw that made them smile and have their eyes get big?

What was the student saying to that reviewer? She’s obviously very excited about whatever it is.

What is that student writing down? What did the reviewer just say that sparked them to make a note?

What did that reviewer just see and hear?

What did that student just hear and think about?

There’s two kinds of people watching. There’s the fun, whimsical kind where you can guess at people’s lives and that’s that. Then there’s the more interesting kind, where you have context of the people you’re watching. This is the kind where you hope to see them again and again; each time a bit wiser, a bit more experienced, and definitely more passionate.

That afternoon when we wrapped up the review, a few of us headed out for a post-review drink and we shared our the stories of the students we met, the work we saw, and our own observations of the day…as if we all were collectively trying to put one cohesive vision of what we experienced while reviewing these students. There was a lot of amazing conversations reviewers had with students, and general attitude of awe and potential.

While I was driving home, I kept thinking about the day, replaying the events over and over again in mind. I started to think about my own experiences from reviews in the past and I even more, I began to think of the reviewers who have been part of this annual event for years. Eventually, my mind kept coming back to the fact that this chapter is ten years old; this review is ten years old. Think of all the people in this community we’ve seen. Think of all of the folks we have wondered what their lives are like now. When I think of the portfolio review, I think that in some way we have made an indelible mark on those students and that we have helped them in their careers. I hope that one day, these students will continue on and make the success in their lives and careers that they see and value. I hope that these students become the professionals we know they can be and that they have people watch them and wonder.

What did they do be become a success?

What events happened in their life to have such a profound effect, professionally?

What did they do that I could also try?

What was it that made her confident?

What did he hear that made it click for him?

I can’t wait for next year.

I want to say thank you to all of the reviewers who spent their Saturday with us. Your commitment to the design community is inspiring to me. To our sponsors, Nancy Mata at Millersville University,  Kevin Wilson at Fresh Roasted Hosting and Dan Libertore and Julia Reddy at Purpose1, we couldn’t have done this event without you. To my volunteers Amanda, Alyssa and Erica, I can’t thank you enough for all of the hard work you did that day. To my colleagues on the board at AIGA Central PA…what can I say that I haven’t already said before. Thank you all so much.  For all of the students who came to the review, thank you for inspiring all of us. We can’t wait to see what you’ll do in the future.

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