Blog Feature

By: Noel Dahl on March 2nd, 2017

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This Could Be You: 3 CCA Alumni Who Made it Big (and Made a Difference)

Alumni | Making A Difference

Here at California College of the Arts, we take great pride in our alumni and are their biggest champions. Why? Because we watched them grow, evolve, take risks, and succeed in ways they never thought possible. And while we’re proud of them, we’re equally as excited for you to imagine yourself in their impressive shoes. We know there are many different art colleges you can choose from. And we believe your final choice should be based on your goals, as well as your vision of life not just while you’re in art school, but after graduation.

How do you define career success? How do you want to change the world? What sort of community do you want to contribute to?

Each of our graduates has a story to tell about how their CCA experience — the expert instructors that mentored them, the boundary-defying projects they worked on, the industry-leading internships they secured — set them down the path to becoming who they are today, as artists and people.

To help you envision what’s possible after four years at CCA, here are three alumni stories from three different programs.

From the Field of Battle to the Field of Animation

Maximilian Uriarte came to CCA after two tours of duty with the U.S. Marines in Iraq. There, his creative talent was noticed by his commanders and he was given the position of combat artist and photographer. With his pencils and his camera, he documented the daily lives of Marines in his battalion, a theme he has returned to throughout his art career.

After an honorable discharge from the Marines, Maximilian enrolled at CCA as an animation major; he soon discovered a passion for storyboarding.

“Probably my favorite animation course was Mark Andrews’s Visual Storytelling, a storyboarding course in which I learned how to pick apart a film, shot by shot, and maximize my storytelling ability with an economy of shots,” he says.

Maximilian started drawing his comic about the lives of Marines, Terminal Lance, in 2009. It now appears regularly in the Marine Corps Times and has developed a sizeable following online. A graphic novel, “The White Donkey: Terminal Lance”, was published this year by Little, Brown and Company. The Washington Post said the book, “manages to illustrate what feels like a ‘true’ war story and a lonely chapter in a war our country is trying desperately to forget.”

With the success of his comic and his book, Maximilian says, his art “is a full-time job at this point, and I’m happy to be doing what I love.”

There and Back Again

Ako Castuera started at CCA in the ceramics program, completed her degree as an illustrator, and found career success in animation.

She didn’t necessarily set out to be an animator; as she recounts here, she made the most of her CCA connections to land her first gig. From 2006 through 2015, she worked as a character designer for Metalocalypse and then as a storyboard artist for Adventure Time, both popular Cartoon Network shows.

Recently though, Ako has returned to her first passion. She exhibited some of her ceramics pieces in the Smithsonian's Asian-Latino Pop-Up Museum in Silver Spring, Maryland, in 2013. And she collaborated with her husband, CCA grad Rob Sato, on a two-person show in Los Angeles last year.

Throughout all these transitions, the voices in Ako’s head have remained constant, she says:

“I hear (former CCA professor) Vincent Perez saying, ‘Keep It Simple, Stupid,’ and (former professor) Richard Gayton asking, 'Can you do this watercolor in five strokes? Plan ahead.’”

Rewired for Design

After a civil engineering career failed to fulfill, and a brief stint in arts management stalled out, Bruce King-Shey came to CCA seeking a radical change of path. He got one — a path that led him to become vice president of design innovation at PepsiCo, one of the most iconic food and beverage brands in the world.

How did it happen? As Bruce describes it, midway through his industrial design BFA at CCA, his brain got “rewired.” He began to see beyond the design of objects to their very reason for being.

“It was about looking for the ‘why?’ behind visual culture, and trying to decode it,” he says. “And, in realizing all this, I recognized for the first time a certain itch that wasn’t getting scratched for me in engineering or design.”

Bruce soon added a graduate degree in visual criticism on top of his already formidable workload. With the encouragement and support of his CCA professors, he got through it.

Now a consulting design strategist at Capital One, Bruce promotes “design thinking” throughout the corporate structure, according to his LinkedIn page. This is a mode of thought he acquired in art school.

“As a result of CCA, I don’t fear not knowing something. And that way of thinking is different than what goes on in corporations. All corporations want clear answers. Everyone jumps straight to the solution. But as their innovation guy, I don’t need to have the answer already; I just need the confidence to know how to get to the answer.”

What Will Your Story Be?

Maximilian, Ako, and Bruce are far from the only CCA alumni success stories; follow this link for over 130 more! And please, if you have any questions about what the future might hold for you if you pursue a CCA education, share them in the comments section below.

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About Noel Dahl

Noel Dahl is director of graduate admissions at California College of the Arts, where he oversees the recruitment, admissions, and enrollment functions of the school's graduate programs. He received his MFA in Fine Arts and has worked in higher education for the past 15 years.

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