Lydia Ishmael has been creating art since she was a young girl.
But it was a plethora of experiences she found as a Blugold on and off campus that helped her see where her artistic talents and passions can take her.
“I’ve always been an artist,” says Ishmael, a senior from Spring Green who will graduate this month with a degree in art & design. “I have greatly developed my skills and found more of a specific focus since coming to UWEC. Before, I was unsure of what I exactly wanted to do with my art skills and abilities, but the classes and other experiences throughout college helped me narrow that down.
“Being a Blugold brought endless opportunities for me and I got to experience so much during my four years here.”
Her varied experiences ranged from immersing herself in other cultures to service projects to real-world job experiences.
Each experience, she says, helped prepare her for future success by allowing her to build her skills, connections, confidence and resume.
“All of these experiences helped me step outside my comfort zone by getting involved and getting to know more people,” says Ishmael, who is looking for a job as a graphic designer or creative director. “I’ve always been a shy and introverted person. Now, I’ve been able to get beyond that thanks to these experiences. I also had jobs off campus where I was always working and meeting with new people, so that helped me in the same way.”
Ishmael completed two summer internships, both of which gave her a peek at what her future career might look like.
Her first internship was with Wilderness Inquiry, an organization based in Minneapolis that takes people into the wilderness by hosting camping, hiking, canoeing and other trips.
As a traveling photographer, Ishmael went on the trips to take photos of the participants as they engaged in their adventures. Her photos were used in Wilderness Inquiry’s newsletters, website and other marketing pieces.
This past summer, Ishmael was a graphic design and video board intern with the Madison Mallards baseball team. She created content for the team’s website, redesigned ballpark stands, created layouts for tickets or flyers and operated the video board during every home game.
“Both internships gave me a great experience working in the real world,” Ishmael says. “I had to learn how to work with others to get toward an objective, while also working independently. Deadlines are important, and so is learning from mistakes.”
An on-campus opportunity also helped Ishmael build her skills and confidence, while also supporting other Blugolds who share her interest in photography.
Jyl Kelley, an assistant professor of art & design and Ishmael’s academic advisor, invited her to be a teaching assistant in an introduction to photography classes.
“I absolutely loved teaching students and assisting the professor in making the class go smoothly,” says Ishmael, noting that she now is thinking about someday teaching art. “It was a great time for me to reflect on my own photography and Photoshop skills, while helping an intro student build theirs.”
Ishmael also embraced opportunities to explore new places and cultures.
Through UW-Eau Claire’s Central European Travel Seminar, she traveled to Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland.
“This immersion was amazing,” Ishmael says. “Everything from the sightseeing and the food, to the group I was with. I learned a great deal about other cultures and how different countries that are so close to each other can be.”
Exploring six countries alongside faculty and other students allowed her to make meaningful connections with people she might not otherwise have met, Ishmael says of highlights of her immersion program.
Closer to home, Ishmael also participated in two service projects during her years on campus, one in Eau Claire and one near Madison.
In Eau Claire, Ishmael and another student spent 45 hours repainting a large outdoor mural that sits along a busy street.
Her second project involved putting bands on wild birds to support research and programs to track bird population trends.
Both service projects required her to work with new people in different settings, giving her opportunities to strengthen her communication skills. Those interpersonal skills will be valuable in her future career, Ishmael says.
The opportunity to have many different experiences on and off campus while in college is what brought her to UW-Eau Claire, says Ishmael, who toured more than 10 universities in Wisconsin and Chicago before deciding to be a Blugold.
“UWEC was my top choice,” Ishmael says. “UWEC offered everything I could have possibly wanted to study, the class sizes and campus size was perfect for me, the campus and surrounding area is beautiful, and I loved the idea of the Power of AND.”
The university’s willingness to encourage students to pursue interests that fall outside of their academic major creates opportunities that students might not find at other universities, Ishmael says.
The variety of opportunities at UW-Eau Claire allows students to find their own path, she says.
“Not everyone wants the same opportunities, so the best thing you can do is to just look,” Ishmael says of embracing all that UW-Eau Claire offers. “I set aside time every year to find something new to get involved in — a new job, a summer internship, my service-learning project. I got involved in so much without going the common route as a student — I didn’t get involved in any clubs, I didn’t become an RA, I didn’t work on campus.
“All of these things provide great opportunities for students, but it’s good to know that if the more typical experiences don’t work for you, there is much more you can do.”
Photo caption: Lydia Ishmael made the most of the many opportunities she found on and off campus during her years at UW-Eau Claire.