URFM ignites student’s passion for art, adventure
Kaleigh Quinnan, a rising senior from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, is pursuing her love of art as a student in Penn State’s Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) program while rounding out her resume with a diverse range of internships, but she wasn’t always so clear about her purpose.
The Spark Program within Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Mentoring (URFM) helped Quinnan to gain this clarity early in her Penn State career, and since then she hasn’t stopped following her passions for both art and adventure.
Not believing that an art major could lead to a career, Quinnan first enrolled at Penn State as a physics major and then quickly jumped to political science, but neither was a fit. Feeling lost, she decided to participate in the Spark Program during the spring of her freshman year in hopes of finding direction.
“I wanted to interact with students from many different majors and to hear from individuals who were making the most of the resources Penn State offers,” she explained.
As expected, the program allowed Quinnan to interact with high-achieving students from across the University and to hear from students who had landed exciting fellowships and internships themselves. She observed that all these individuals had one thing in common: they were following their passions. This provided Quinnan with the push she needed to follow her own passion for painting and drawing. What’s more, the program showcased how fellowships, internships, and other co-curricular experiences could provide a practical supplement to one’s major, and Quinnan pledged to cultivate as many such experiences as she could.
“I left the Spark Program feeling empowered to major in art — and also motivated to get involved in everything I could outside the classroom. My attitude was, ‘Let’s go for it!’”
Since then, Quinnan has done exactly this, gradually taking bigger, more adventurous leaps into the unknown. While interning for Hanlon Creative, a design and marketing company based in Kulpsville, Pennsylvania, she dipped her toes into the world of marketing and first encountered the field of graphic design, which she learned enables one to bring artistic skills to the business world. The following summer, she ventured further from her comfort zone when she moved to Annapolis, Maryland, where she knew no one, to intern with the leather goods company Hobo, an experience that taught her about marketing within the fashion industry.
These opportunities prepared her for her biggest adventure yet, a semester in Paris during Spring 2020 through the highly competitive IFE program. The experience included five weeks of intense French language courses and a semester-long internship with a local firm. Quinnan chose to intern with guidebook company MKRS in a role promoting the company’s then-forthcoming book about Parisian artists and artisans, a position that challenged her to learn advanced design skills on the fly.
Even as she was working hard from 9 to 5, her life outside the office was anything but glamorous: she lived in a ten-by-four apartment within a government-subsidized complex and survived mostly on baguettes, given her tight budget in an expensive city.
While demanding (and cut short by COVID-19), her semester abroad taught Quinnan to be adaptable and to interact with people from many different cultures, she explained. She lived alongside immigrant workers from Africa and the Middle East; reported to an Australian supervisor at MKRS; studied alongside IFE participants from China, Japan, and across the world; and did her best to pass as a native Parisian with locals.
“The semester in Paris was way outside my comfort zone, but it gave me the confidence to pursue whatever opportunities become available in any corner of the world,” she said. “I plan to apply for everything I can and see what doors open up.”
During her senior year, Quinnan plans to work with URFM to apply for a Fulbright fellowship that would allow her to research a community of artists abroad. From there, she is open to careers in painting, graphic design, marketing, or language translation.
Quinnan is a student in the Schreyer Honors College and a Paterno Fellow. In addition to a BFA, she is also pursuing a major in French Business and a minor in Political Science.