Serendipity and creativity: Destined for RIT

Quinn Freidenburg '24

Bari Hayden ’24 (graphic design), left, and Jackie Drozd ’24 (illustration and graphic design) have been roommates all four years at RIT. They originally met as high school students at the School of Art’s Pre-College Portfolio Preparation Workshop on the RIT campus in 2019.

Walking the quarter mile each day from the dorms to Booth Hall for drawing class. Pulling their mattresses into the hallway of Ellingson Hall for a sleepover outside their suite. Jumping in rain puddles during a storm outside the Student Life Center.

These are just some of the vivid memories friends and roommates Jackie Drozd ’24 (illustration and graphic design) and Bari Hayden ’24 (graphic design) recall from their time on campus together. Only they were still in high school.

Their love for art brought these two high school juniors — complete strangers — together in the summer of 2019 for the School of Art’s Pre-College Portfolio Preparation Workshop. The annual two-week workshop gives students the opportunity to create art pieces for their portfolios as they prepare to apply to art schools and colleges.

RIT offered housing in the residence halls that year and dozens of rising high school juniors and seniors from across the country traveled to campus for the workshop. For Drozd and Hayden, they agree they immediately gravitated to each other.

“We really bonded,” said Hayden. “We were some of the only students on campus, so it was cool to be in the same place at once and figure out what we were doing together.”

Drozd hails from Richboro, Pa., and attended high school at the Hun School of Princeton in New Jersey. Hayden went to Pascack Valley High School in Hillsdale, N.J. Hayden, who had originally considered pursuing biology in college, said the workshop clarified that art could be more than a hobby for her.

“Pre-College was my first step toward pursuing art as a major,” said Hayden. “It made me realize it was something I could actually do and enjoy.”

“The workshop was a lot of fun,” Drozd said. “It went by quickly, but I remember learning so much because I had never taken a drawing class like that. It was eye-opening. I was like, ‘Wow, this is something I want to do.’ And it was also nice because I got to meet people and be on the campus and see how it would feel to go to college. And I really liked it so much that I ended up coming here."

The two had planned to stay in touch after the workshop, but the start of their senior years in high school kept them busy. A serendipitous encounter several months later in October of 2019 at the Jacob Javitz Center in New York City led them to reconnect and set the wheels in motion for their return to RIT for college.

Among the nearly 2,000 high school students at the New York City National Portfolio Day (NPD) event, the two bumped into each other. Neither knew the other one was attending.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God! It’s Jackie!’” Hayden said.

Drozd said, “I remember you calling out my name and I turned and was like ‘Bari!?’”

Hayden added, “It was mind boggling. A full-circle moment.”

RIT College of Art and Design faculty had reviewed and accepted Drozd’s portfolio at the event. Drozd encouraged Hayden to have RIT faculty review her portfolio. It was accepted, but at the time Hayden was looking at other universities including George Washington University and Tufts University. 

When the two parted ways at the Javits Center, Drozd told Hayden that if she ended up applying to RIT to let her know. Drozd recalls thinking, "I hope she goes to RIT so we can be roommates."

As the saying goes, “The rest is history.”

The pair lived together all four years at RIT. While they are the same major, they have each found their own paths and interests.

Drozd has played tennis since she was young. She said she grew more serious about it when she got into middle school. In high school, she earned MVP and served as captain. She finished her athletic career at RIT as the captain.

Drozd, who earned two BFA degrees and played tennis, was able to complete her academic requirements to graduate in four years.

“It's definitely a lot,” said Drozd. “It has helped me get better at time management and communication skills with emailing my coaches and advisors. Going to classes and then playing tennis offered me a nice break. It’s a good balance.”

In addition to her BFA degree, Hayden earned two minors, one in advertising and public relations and the other in business administration. Hayden had always wanted to study abroad, and she jumped at the opportunity to travel to RIT Croatia in Zagreb in the summer of 2022. She was able to take all the required courses for the business administration minor.

“It was really cool to learn about perspectives about the United States from another country,” said Hayden. “I would go back to Croatia in a heartbeat! I loved being part of authentic Croatian life for three months. I didn’t feel like a tourist.”

Both young women received real-world job experience while at RIT.

Hayden interned at Lumen Technologies and Yes& Agency, and Drozd completed an internship at Brother USA. They also both worked at Command+g, an on-campus, full-service design studio that works with internal and external clients.

Following graduation, Hayden will intern at RedPeg, an experiential marketing agency in Alexandria, Va., that creates events and conventions for companies. Once life settles down for Drozd, she will begin applying for jobs. Ultimately, she would like to do freelance illustration work.

As they both reflect on how their friendship began five years ago, they giggle about silly inside jokes and movie nights with their two other roommates. While the future is unknown, their friendship will always be a constant.

“We have always picked up right where we left off,” said Hayden. “I often doubt friendships, and this was never one that I had doubts about. Love you, Jackie!”

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