Admissions representatives from 20 different colleges reviewed Wauwatosa East student artwork Oct. 14, providing feedback by looking at students' portfolios and giving them advice regarding collegiate choices and career futures.
East art teacher Kelly Frederick Mizer described a visual arts portfolio as a body of work that identifies a student’s skill set and their artistic voice. Past portfolio days have helped expose Wauwatosa East and West students to top colleges as well as prepare the students to compete with schools for coveted scholarship dollars. Frederick Mizer went to Pius High School and saw up close how this type of program can have tremendous benefits for the students.
"One of the things that the admissions reps do in talking to the students is to become more articulate about their work," Frederick Mizer said. "A portfolio is a resume for a scholarship. It is visual evidence of their learning."
Daniel Chase from the Kansas City Art Institute said the portfolio is the biggest item students need to get into a good school and after that comes the test scores and GPA. In addition he said that risk taking is something they look for both in a student's subject matter and materials.
"We are looking for a balance between more traditional and technical skills… and whatever the student is interested in and how it manifests with their subject matter," Chase said. "We come here every year because the schools (in Wauwatosa) go above and beyond and they set up these events and are very serious about providing good art education for their students."
The effectiveness of the program can be seen in the numbers: In the 2015-16 school year, more than $1.6 million in scholarships were offered to 14 Advanced Placement Art students at Wauwatosa East; in 2014-15, 19 AP students received more than $3.1 million in scholarships, according to information provided by the school district.
Not all of these offers come at portfolio day, but the reviews and practice students receive toward the college submission process has a huge impact on their future. Offers range from a few thousand dollars to full rides at top institutions. Over the last two years scholarship offers to art students at Wauwatosa West totaled around $800,000.
"One of the things that makes this possible for us is that we have huge community support for the arts," Frederick Mizer said. "Our administrative team is really supportive of what we do. The entire school district is supportive from the middle schools to both high schools. It distinguishes us from other public districts."
Art students who have experienced this program from Tosa East and West have gone on to have distinguished careers in many different fields related to the arts, such as merchandising, television, editors for major magazines, teachers and even designing sneakers. Senior Sam Zanowski is looking at schools from coast to coast and has some thoughts on where he would like his post high school career to take him.
"My dream job would be to create an animated show on the Cartoon Network or Adult Swim," Zanowksi said. "I have always liked the animation and the story aspect, which is reflected in my art and my illustration, but I love seeing it come to life in animation. Being able to create a show and watch the world build and the characters build and have people watch it and relate to it would be absolutely amazing for me."
Zanowski added that without the support of the schools and the guidance of teachers like Frederick Mizer he would not be as certain or excited about what he wanted to do with his life. Senior Luci Hovel has had a similar experience.
"I think they are looking for students who know what they want to do and have a good foundation," Hovel said. "Today I am finding what I should put in my portfolio, what my strengths are, what schools want to see and where I should go with my future."
Hovel said she sees her future in textile design making fabric or working as an art director.
"My ideas come from the fact that I like things that repeat and I am drawn to things like flowers," Hovel said. "It kind of builds up one idea at a time and I like to put them all together."
Frederick Mizer said the program is beneficial to the students in many ways, enables them to showcase themselves to a host of different colleges and offers the Wauwatosa high school student something that is relatively unique.
“It distinguishes us from other public districts," Frederick Mizer said. “To say they have studied at a nationally acclaimed, nationally award-winning high school arts program, that makes a big difference in what schools they may get accepted into."