This article is part of a series featuring some of this year’s outstanding graduating students, nominated by their academic school or college or another University program in which they participated. Check for additional profiles of students in the Class of 2013 on UConn Today from now through Commencement.
Celia Poirier ’13 (SFA, CLAS) never had room in her schedule for art classes in high school. But she did put together a portfolio of drawings in her spare time, and when she took it along to National Portfolio Day, she was offered admission on the spot to UConn’s School of Fine Arts.
Since then the Honors student and dual degree candidate in fine arts and communication has spent four years honing her design skills, and has embraced the possibility of pursuing a career in the arts.
She found her niche at UConn’s Design Center. The center, which is run like a regular design studio, gives up to 20 students the opportunity to work on projects for clients both within and outside the University. Each project is managed by a small team of students, and Poirier has participated in a bunch of them.
“We manage the whole project,” she says, “including budget, timeline, coordinating with the client. It’s been one of the best experiences I’ve had because you’re working in the real world.”
“My design professors are what I’m going to miss the most, especially Edvin [Yegir, head of the Design Center],” says Poirier. “I’ve learned so much from him. He treats us like collaborators and colleagues. His advice pushes you and motivates you. I’ll never be able to thank him enough for everything.”
Although the Design Center has been Poirier’s academic home on campus, Poirier has fitted in a broad range of other experiences. A dual degree student in communication as well as fine arts, she is also an active participant in the Honors Program, worked two campus jobs, studied abroad, and did an internship in New York City.
Now working to complete her Honors thesis, Poirier also welcomes the opportunity to cap her studies at UConn with an original project. Her senior thesis is a review of a year-long design project she conducted with a non-profit syringe exchange in Willimantic, after developing a new visual identity for the program.
Poirier, who comes from Windham, appreciated the chance to give back to her hometown: “I’ve learned a lot, it’s a good cause, and a way to help people in my town.”
Poirier also took the opportunity to travel further afield. In the summer before her junior year, she joined a UConn Study Abroad program in Florence, where she took courses in art history and Italian. It was the first time she had been outside the U.S.
“Study Abroad was probably my favorite experience, if not Design Center,” she says. “It was so meaningful because I proved to myself that I could do that. I am chronically challenged with directions – my parents probably thought I wouldn’t come back. I had to learn how to take the train places, walk to school, find a grocery store. It proved I can be independent and figure things out, and if I end up completely lost for a couple of hours, that’s ok too.”
The experience was also a good preparation for the following summer, when Poirier spent three months in Brooklyn, N.Y., to get a taste of the professional design scene. “I was looking for a change of environment,” she says. “As a designer, I’ll have to end up in the city at some point. New York, San Francisco, Chicago – that’s where the jobs are.”
Again, Poirier pushed herself beyond her comfort zone. “It was the first time I’ve done anything without a plan,” she says. “It was a little scary. I was ready to take whatever came.”
But she successfully landed a job as a graphic design intern for the summer.
Going from eastern Connecticut to the city was “like night and day,” she says, “but I really loved it.”
Poirier also has work experience on her resume from two on-campus jobs. During her freshman and sophomore year, she worked in the Independent Major office with director Margaret Lamb, and since then, she has worked as a graphic designer at the Benton Museum. This year, when Lamb, now director of the Office of Undergraduate Research, needed a visual identity for the new UConn IDEA grant program, she knew where to go. Poirier developed a colorful and sophisticated logo and other materials that communicate exactly what the grant program is all about.
Looking back at her personal journey over the past four years, Poirier says, “Being at UConn has allowed me to embrace art as something I can do for a living. I grew up with the attitude that art is something you do on the side. The past four years – working with my design professors – have taught me that art is something you do, it’s a way of life.”
As for the future, she says she is “open-minded.”
“I would like to do something similar to what I’m doing now, working with small group of designers, designing for change, designing for social good,” she says. “I think design has the potential to make a difference and help people. I hope I can work somewhere in that area, that’s my ideal.”