Collaborative initiatives helping recent graduates reach for success during pandemic

2020 graduates of the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences participated in a portfolio review as part of a Facebook group last spring.

Since the earliest days of the pandemic, a dedicated group of RIT faculty, staff, and alumni has come together to provide critical career guidance and insights to scores of recent College of Art and Design graduates beginning their careers at a most challenging time.

In two initiatives involving the collaborative efforts of alumni relations and career services, an alumnus of the college’s nationally recognized School of Photographic Arts and Sciences (SPAS) spearheaded mass online critiques of graduating seniors’ photography portfolios, and a Virtual Career Series open to creatives throughout the college resulted in two virtual panels and nearly 150 online portfolio reviews.

“Experiential learning has always been a keystone to an RIT education. It gives our students the opportunity to gain meaningful experience, add to their portfolio or reel, and make those useful connections that are so important to building a career,” said Gretchen Burruto, associate director of the Office of Career Services and Cooperative Education in Academic Affairs.

“We learned quickly from many of our students that their internships, co-ops, and other career-building experiences had been either canceled or scaled back due to the impact of COVID-19,” Burruto added.

After reaching out to 11,500 of the College of Art and Design’s alumni seeking help, Lisa Vasaturo, director of Alumni and Constituent Engagement in University Advancement, said she was “pleased—and not at all surprised—that we began receiving positive responses almost immediately.”

One of those alumni, Sam Kang ’19 (photographic sciences), said he jumped at the opportunity to help.

“At RIT, I experienced the close-knit community that the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences has both with professors and alumni,” recalled Kang, who currently works as a digital assistant at Pier59 Studios in New York City while continuing to freelance. “Through this community, I was able to make friends of all disciplines of photography and continue these friendships post-graduation.”

Understanding the difficulties being faced by SPAS students adapting to the new realities with COVID-19 while taking classes virtually over the spring, Kang offered to provide portfolio critiques online.

“I knew that this was a crucial time for students to finalize their portfolios and websites to prepare for their professional careers,” the Queens, N.Y., native said. “I started asking my friends if they would be interested in reviewing other students’ work and they were very willing to give back.”

Kang was able to solicit even wider interest in portfolio critiques by putting a call out over social media, including the SPAS’ Instagram page and the creation of a Facebook group. In all, more than 30 seniors and 60 alumni from a wide range of photography majors are active in the group.

Burruto noted that the collaboration among the College of Art and Design and its alumni is one of a number of initiatives the office has undertaken to assist RIT students and alumni since the start of the pandemic.

In addition to initiating a fledging RIT Portfolio Partners group on LinkedIn—the group is open to only College of Art and Design faculty, students, and alumni, Burruto noted—career services is in the midst of planning additional programming to assist the college’s students and alumni in the virtual space.

And while RIT students and alumni continue to face a number of unique challenges wrought by the pandemic, Vasaturo is confident that collaborative initiatives such as this one will help in the long run.

“This is just one example of the long-standing, strong, supportive network that exists in the College of Art and Design between our students, alumni, staff, and faculty,” Vasaturo observed. “It begins from the time a freshman or transfer sets foot on campus and continues on without end. It’s a distinct and exceptional environment that differentiates our college.”

“During these initiatives, with the help of our alumni and career services, we’ll be able to offer our students opportunities to obtain experience that will have both immediate and far-reaching benefits,” she added. “Our alumni sharing their expertise and connecting with our recent graduates will have a positive impact on the start of their careers and further strengthen their ties to the RIT community for years to come.”

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