BHSU art program gives graduate the confidence, leadership skills to achieve lifelong dreams

Author: BHSU Communications/Tuesday, May 5, 2015/Categories: 2015








           Black Hills State University student Ethan Engel, art and graphic design communication major from Winner, will graduate on Saturday, May 9. Engel, who has autism, said he the art program at BHSU helped him excel.




Ethan Engel&rsquos journey hasn&rsquot always been easy.

As graduation day nears for Ethan, he looks back on his time at BHSU, and reflects on how he&rsquos grown over the past four years.

"It was a challenge for me as a freshman. I have a learning disability, autism, which is a complex disorder that deals with verbal communication and social interaction," Ethan said. "For me to be out of my comfort zone and away from home, my family and my friends, it was a challenge to experience the new surroundings at BHSU and make new friends."

Through his involvement in the art department at BHSU, Ethan&rsquos confidence and leadership skills have grown over the years, earning him the respect of his fellow students and professors. Ethan has been the president of the BHSU Art Club for two years, helping organize art displays on campus and in the community. He also has taken the reins in his classes, such as gallery management, organizing an art show in the library and the recent BHSU Art Walk on campus.

Ethan always enjoyed art his grandmother got him into the craft when he was four years old. He dabbled in artwork all throughout high school, creating masterpieces out of rustic materials. Naturally, he began taking art classes at BHSU, and in the process, he found a niche that allowed him to excel at the University level. Saturday, Ethan will graduate with a double major in art and graphic design communication.

"As a freshman, I was this introverted kid. I had trouble asking for help," Ethan said. "Since my involvement with the art department, I&rsquove grown and developed so many leadership skills."

"I feel I found my perfect fit," Ethan added. "Creating art and taking photography at BHSU developed my social skills. From there I made new friends. I went from being this introverted person who likes to hide himself to someone who can now speak freely to others really well."

Ethan has had much success with his artwork over the past year. He&rsquos had photographs selected for the Photographer&rsquos Forum 35th Annual College Photographer&rsquos Exhibition and showcased his work in many shows across campus and in Spearfish. He also earned space in the BHSU Dub-C Studio in the lower level of Wenona Cook Hall. Students apply and are accepted for the limited studio space.

Much of his success, however, came from a series of artwork called "Transcendence: Journey of Autism," which tells his story and struggles of having autism. The artwork from the collection has been showcased locally, regionally and nationally. In the fall, one of the pieces was selected for the VSA Emerging Young Artists program, a national exhibit which kicked off at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

The artwork is created on a flesh-colored canvas. Ethan burns words from a personal journey on the canvas that tell the story of his diagnosis with autism, he and his family&rsquos struggles with the disability, and his eventual acceptance of autism. The burn marks represent the scars from past challenges.

During the spring, Ethan held his own professional, art show at the Matthews Opera House while he was still a college student.

Although Ethan is proud of his accomplishments through the series, he said it was sometimes difficult to relive the memories of growing up with autism when creating his artwork.

"It can give you this emotional feeling of vulnerability. You&rsquore just putting yourself out there," Ethan said. "But sometimes that vulnerability needs to come out so people can understand how I live this disability every day."  

After Saturday, Ethan will continue to showcase his "Transcendence" collection, as well as explore graduate school opportunities to earn an advanced art degree.

When Ethan talks about his future goals, his exhilaration is clearly evident.

"I will be honest. I had a few people say they never thought I would attend college and graduate," Ethan said. "But I proved them wrong."


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