Alumni Success

Impressive examples of alumni at work

We love hearing from alumni about how they are putting their artistic skills into practice. Many are already making a name for themselves in their various artistic disciplines.

Apart from those who land a job upon graduation, some alums choose, instead, to continue their education. Our statistics show that 10 percent of our graduates pursue an M.F.A. degree immediately following study at KCAI, while 35 percent get their master’s degree within five years of getting their B.F.A.

We have so many successful alumni that we can’t possibly share all of their stories but you can read about a few KCAI grads we’ve chosen to spotlight here.

Karen Kice (‘01 ceramics and art history)

kice_pic2As the Neville Bryan Assistant Curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at the Art Institute of Chicago, Karen Kice (‘01 ceramics and art history) develops exhibitions and identifies acquisitions for the collection of contemporary architecture and design. Karen stays abreast of current happenings within these contemporary practices of architecture and design through studio visits, lectures, travel, and research–periodically teaching graduate seminars at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago related to the research she is developing.

Karen curated the exhibition, Chatter: Architecture Talks Back at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2015, highlighting five emerging architects whose work communicated ideas influenced by contemporary modes of communication like texting, Instagram, and Twitter. “It was an exciting exhibition for me to do because it allowed me to position their work in a contemporary context and make new statements about several of the trends I see in architecture practices,” Kice said. Kice wrote in the exhibition catalog in depth about her ideas regarding the work.D49500_113

How does Kice’s B.F.A. degree in ceramics play into her current role as a curator of architecture and design? “My education at KCAI helped to develop my creative and critical thinking and problem solving skills. I also developed a very strong work ethic–everyone was very passionate and dedicated to their work–it was an amazing and productive environment as a student.”
Kice also credits the relationships formed at KCAI as being a lasting support for her throughout her career.

For students just starting their careers, she has some great advice – apply your creative thinking skills and follow your own path. She considers her own indirect path of seemingly unrelated experiences a positive result of being open to outcome, and while she has found herself in various disciplines of study, all that she has learned from those experiences have been invaluable to the position she holds today.

Paul Briggs ('96 illustration)

"BIG HERO 6" (Pictured) Paul Briggs. Photo by: Ricky Middlesworth. ©2014 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

“BIG HERO 6” (Pictured) Paul Briggs. Photo by: Ricky Middlesworth. ©2014 Disney. All Rights Reserved.


When he was a senior at KCAI, Paul Briggs learned from his department chair that Disney was accepting portfolios for an internship. The Texas native scrambled, submitted a drawing portfolio, got the job and started animating on “Mulan.” Except for stints at Warner Bros. and Nickelodeon, he has been with Disney ever since.

He was story supervisor on “Frozen,” the Oscar winning, crowd-pleasing fairytale and Big Hero 6, the animated superhero comedy. Being head of story, or story supervisor, means he managed a team of story artists working together to get the director’s vision onto the screen, he said.

"FROZEN" (Pictured) OLAF. ©2013 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

“FROZEN” (Pictured) OLAF. ©2013 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Asked how KCAI prepared him for his career at Disney, Briggs mentioned the strong foundation he gained in art training and the support system he experienced with other students. He also said that college is a time when a student can try new things, experience failure and learn from it.

“You develop a better sense of what your strengths are, and you focus on improving and developing yourself,” he said. “KCAI gave me the opportunity to try a lot of different things. Even though I was in illustration/design, I was very into sculpting, ceramics and drawing. Some of my figure- and anatomy-drawing classes were crucial to my getting an internship at Disney. Plus there’s a great support system through other students. You’re all going through the same thing, but on different paths, so you have friends who push and challenge your individual work.”

Cameron Calder ('06 Painting)

image004Cameron Calder (’06 painting) works at IBM Austin in a state-of-the-art product design studio that is focusing on how a new era of software will be designed, developed and consumed by organizations around the globe.

Before joining IBM and moving to Texas, Calder was a creative director at Propaganda3 in Kansas City, Mo. He also has experience as a freelance designer of digital applications. From an early age he was interested in games. “I played all the typical Nintendo games and spent a lot of time with Lemmings and MechWarrior,” he said. “Before I was able to get a handheld like Game Boy, I would glue cardboard together, draw a game interface on the front and pretend to play it on the way to school.” The game he is proudest of designing is Burn the Lot, which he co-created with Dan Long at Propaganda3.


How does earning a B.F.A. degree in painting prepare someone for a career in digital design? “I learned a great deal from my painting degree that still applies today,” Calder said. “I started out doing paintings on canvas, transitioned to screen prints on vinyl and ended my senior year with a core focus on animation and storytelling through interactive flash projects.

“KCAI also had a real impact on me regarding what it meant to focus on my craft and always keep pushing. The other thing that has stuck is collaboration. Although I was in the painting department, we would always bounce ideas off each other and discuss how we could lean on each other to push our work collectively forward.”

For high school students interested in majoring in art or design in college, he has this advice: “You get out of school exactly what you put in to it. Hard work combined with a great education will get you a long way.”

Nick Cave ('82 Fiber)

Nick Cave portrait by James PrinzIn addition to teaching at the college level at SAIC in Chicago, Nick Cave is a performer and fashion designer. He creates Soundsuits, which are elaborately designed assemblages of unexpected materials that emit sound as the person wearing them moves. His work has been featured in Vogue magazine and displayed in art museums across the United States.

“The Soundsuit is a combination of a number of things,” Nick said. “I’m looking at historical dress, costume, ceremonial, performance, carnival and celebration pieces from around the world.” He made his first Soundsuit out of twigs and continues to find himself connecting back to the whole idea of recycling. Soundsuit - Tops

Nick realized he wanted to be an artist when he was in high school in Columbia, Mo. A brother was already a student at KCAI, so Nick applied and was accepted. Once enrolled, Nick also explored the dance program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

“At KCAI, I learned the importance of being able to allow myself to explore the possibilities and to know that if I were to fall I would still have the support of my professors,” he said. “My professors challenged me, which allowed me to build trust in myself and to have a point of view — to have the confidence and the belief that I could turn this into a serious career. The school was a pivotal moment in my career.”

ROSIE RUZICKA ('15 illustration)


Being one of the first graphic designers hired for an in-house ad agency responsible for shaping the creative vision of a 32 billion dollar mobile company is exciting and a little bit daunting, especially for a recent college graduate. Yet when Sprint’s new internal agency Yellow Fan offered Rosie Ruzicka (’15 illustration) a job, she didn’t hesitate. Her education at KCAI gave her the confidence and skills she needed to work in a start-up agency.


“When I graduated from KCAI, I felt I had a leg-up because of the experience I had. I was really well prepared because the core focus of the curriculum is to work fast, be a producer and have a good attitude. We learned teamwork and how it’s more about successful collaboration than your individual style,” said Ruzicka.

She also learned the art of the quick turnaround, a vital skill in the fast-paced agency world. Her instructors would send her home with an assignment and give her six hours to come up with an image that worked for the project. “A lot of the students would get frustrated because they thought no one would ever ask them to do a design that quickly. But now, my boss will come in at 9 AM and want me to finish a project by noon. That’s the way agencies tend to run.”

Learning to draw in her illustration classes also gave Rosie her an advantage in getting hired. According to Rosie, “Not every designer can illustrate. Employers want to see that you have a point of view and coming in with a distinct style made me more valuable. Because I had developed the ability to draw, it set me apart from the other applicants.” She loves seeing her work out in the world. “I want everyone to know that you really can be an artist and have a lucrative career.”


Nathan Mabry ('01 Ceramics)

NathanMabry by Noah Webb- smaller file

Full time artist Nathan Mabry’s sculptures have gained attention from prestigious publications such as Art in America and The New York Times. His work is full of sly references to art from across centuries and around the world, including pre-Columbian sculpture, Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker” and Minimalist sculpture of the 1960s. Mabry’s sculptures have been lauded as playful, iconoclastic and sophisticated.

After completing his B.F.A. degree at KCAI, Mabry earned an M.F.A. degree from the University of California-Los Angeles in 2004. He has exhibited at the Gladstone Gallery in New York, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and the Aspen Art Museum in Colorado.

Mabry’s day-to-day activities go far beyond the romantic notion of the artist slaving away in the studio. While part of the practice is studio-based Mabry notes, “I deal with so many fabricators and vendors that I am constantly on the phone or driving from place to place. It is a different kind of creative process. Each project will dictate what my day will be like, from sculpting with clay in the studio to approving CAD drawings for metal fabrication.”

In addition to the fabrication side, Mabry’s works reflect the complex coordination of different ideas and theories. “I am always contemplating and evaluating the work,” he said. “It will change many times in the process from idea to finished piece. It’s like I am trying to solve some complex equation by attempting to get each part to fit just right so it all adds up.”

Mabry remembers his professors as teachers who encouraged open dialogue and fostered a tight-knit community among students. “They were willing to go the extra step to nurture the young mind.” The foundation faculty as well as other professors should be pleased to know they helped shape the mind of this young artist, who has gone on to make art that turns the heads of critics, curators and collectors around the world.