UCI Arts Ambassadors - Arts Stories

UCI Arts Ambassadors - Their Arts Stories

Anita Abdinezhad
Drama Major

Hi there! I’m Anita.

I’m a 4th year undergrad here at UCI, studying a bunch of things. I’m doubling in Drama and Public Health and minoring in Anthropology!

Yes. Guilty as charged… I love school.

But the arts would probably be my favorite subject… I just love the energy Art students bring into work and collaboration in creating something beautiful or provocative, powerful or thought provoking that can inspire and motivate others.

I strongly believe that education combined with the arts can make the world a vastly better place. When people are engrossed in learning something they are passionate about, through creative and critical thinking that challenges them to think outside the box, there would be no other desire or interest in violent or malicious behavior. As a result, there would be less crime, less wars, less incarceration and more jobs, education, and respect!

As of right now, I believe that is my ultimate goal (or Super-Objective in Acting terminology): to combine the subjects I am learning currently, to ultimately provide and endorse education for those who lack it.

On the side… I’d LOVE to be in movies. I strongly believe that films, too, can be powerful forms of education and awareness, and I aim to create cathartic and socially significant ones.

When I am not doing school work, I am either taking headshots of my actor friends or hiking with my dog, Toffee. I love being outdoors and taking in mother-nature. My dream city to live in is Vancouver, Canada. It beautifully captures all four seasons, is right by the mountains and the ocean, and has a lively downtown with an awesome diversity of people.

Thank you for taking the time to read my little bio! Feel free to contact me if you have any questions regarding my work or Claire Trevor School of the Arts!

Kristen Daniels
Drama Major

I'm Kristen Daniels and I am a third year undergraduate student here at UCI. I am a Drama major and since arriving at UCI, I have gotten to experience many opportunities to grow in my knowledge as an actor, but also have grown as a human being. I love the chance to express myself here in this uniquely designed department and within the Arts Ambassadors. The Ambassador program means a lot to me because before coming here, I was unaware of the fantastic program UCI had to offer, so as an Ambassador, I feel that it is my job to inform others about the possibilities presented here. There is a true community within the field of the arts, and the Claire Trevor School of the Arts helps cultivate that bond in a supportive educational environment that I am happy to share in.

Julia DePaoli
Dance Major

I study art because it is a passion of mine that continues to grow with each new experience I have. I came to UCI because of the high level of the Dance department, which offers students the training, opportunities, and guidance to propel them to grow as artists and find rewarding and diverse career paths. CTSA allows you to create the arts education that works best for you as an individual, and connect with exceptional faculty who invest themselves in their students. I am an Arts Ambassador so I can share with others all of the ways CTSA has made my art college career so fulfilling thus far, and all of the different programs it has to offer to students.

Shannon Funderburk
Drama Major

Greetings! My name is Shannon Funderburk and I am a fourth year Drama Major/Educational Studies Minor with an (almost) Emphasis in Creative Writing. Welcome to my Arts Story!

My journey to the Claire Trevor School of the Arts was a rocky one. I discovered my passion a little late in life and did not start acting until my junior year of high school. But there is never a wrong time to start something new, nor is there a wrong time to make a change. The biggest change I made was firmly declaring to myself and others that I would pursue a degree in the arts, despite my family and peers questioning the rationality of my choice, despite the societal pressures to conform to the masses and get a “real job,” and despite the doubts that festered inside my veins that made me question my own ability and skill as an artist.
I’ve learned during my three years here that no predetermined path is laid out neatly before any of us. We must work to carve, uproot, and lay the foundations for a path that is uniquely our own. We must all brave the unknown, battle self-doubt, and emerge as stronger, wiser human beings at the end of our collegiate journey. It is necessary to know that you are autonomous of your own future.

Two of the many things I am passionate about are communication – the act of both listening to the thoughts and experiences of others and contributing your own, and collaboration. I believe we need to be more fearless in the face of prejudice and more willing to listen, share, and create stories about our world in the hopes of shaping a better world. Communicating and collaborating with my fellow artists here at the Claire Trevor School of the Arts allows me to do just that!

I am excited to have the opportunity to guide you on your journey! Please feel free to contact me should you have any questions. smiley

Bryn Gallagher
Dance Major

I couldn’t tell you why I originally started dancing; it was supposed to be a three-year-old’s “phase” (according to my mom) that never phased out. The reason why I have continued to study dance, however, is that it is the ability to emote and speak through bodily movement. I enjoy having and experimenting with that kind of power. Initially I chose to come to UCI because it had the rigor of a conservatory program with the ability to study outside the world of dance; I wanted the ability to connect to multiple interests, and UCI met those needs. When I entered Claire Trevor School of the Arts I was a pure bun-head ballerina through and through and didn’t think that I would need anything else. The program here forced me to dance outside my comfort zone and dance in other forms. This training not only made me more versatile, it also helped to inform my ballet performance. One of my favorite experiences in CTSA was a thesis project I was in which involved collaboration between the dance and drama departments. It was incredible the amount we had to teach each other with all of us being performers but trained in different ways. This collaboration, in part, led me to want to be an Arts Ambassador. I hope to foster and be involved in more collaborative projects so we can continue to strengthen each other and our school.

Simon Harrison
Dance Major

I started formal tap dance training when I was eight years old, and quickly added jazz, ballet, hip hop, and modern to my repertoire. In high school, I was invited to perform in local professional dance companies, and consecutively received first place at international Latin ballroom competitions for two years. It seemed like a straightforward road from there: I was going to pursue a career as a professional dancer.

I was accepted into nine out of ten universities that I applied to, and I am very happy with my final choice at UCI. I thought I would end up in New York, but auditioning during the cold winter months made it unappealing. UCI gives me the opportunity to train in a conservatory-style Dance program within a large public research university, allowing me to pursue other interests. I have discovered a new passion for education and added a second major in Education Sciences... and you can’t beat the weather!

The CTSA Dance program focuses on ballet, modern, and jazz as the core technique classes, unlike many other Dance programs that focus on just ballet or modern. The network of supportive faculty and graduate students in the Dance department has already set me up dancing with two professional companies, as well as conducting dance research abroad in Panama and Italy. 

I hold leadership positions in various arts related student organizations, and have applied these experiences and skills to my blooming professional career. One thing I have learned is the importance of collaboration and community. I believe the Arts Ambassadors program is a great platform for CTSA students from all departments to come together to build a collaborative, artful campus, and share with the greater community the awesome things that we do.

Sydney Streightiff
Music Major

Hi! My name is Sydney Streightiff, and I am a second year Music Performance major getting my B.M. in Oboe Performance. I chose to study music because I have been playing and taking lessons my entire life, so I felt like it was the next logical step to study music because I could not picture myself living a life without playing music on a daily basis. I truly believe that music is the one thing that connects us all, and is something that no one can live without. I chose UC Irvine because it has a small music department which gives me more playing opportunities than at a larger music school, but still allows me to work with the world renowned faculty everyday. One of the biggest factors for me when I was making my decision was that my private teacher also works for UCLA, which has a much larger studio. When I started attending class here I really felt like I found my place in the art school. I went to high school 30 minutes away from where I lived. Because of this I did not have a close knit group of friends. When I moved here everything changed, everyone I met was extremely welcoming, and as I got more involved in the campus such as with Arts Ambassadors and with the Music Fraternity, Mu Phi Epsilon, I started developing a family away from home. Through Mu Phi I started going out into the community as well such as when I started teaching Da Capo music lessons. Through this program I gained invaluable teaching experience as well as two internships and a job. The Claire Trevor School of the Arts has given me so many opportunities to grow and experience different ways to express myself, which made me want to join the Arts Ambassador program to share that experience with other people, and give them the information to do so as well.

Olivia Stroud
Dance Major

Hello! My name is Olivia and this is my second year at UCI. Presently, I am a Dance major, working towards adding a double major in Business Administration. 

From having danced seriously throughout high school and with the support of my family, I decided to pursue a degree in the arts with the hopes of continuing to better my art in preparation for a professional dance career. Coming into the Dance department here, I knew very little beyond my desire to dance and that the program here was well known for its high caliber of training. What I found at CTSA was more than just a series of technique classes, but an entire community of hugely talented artists, passionate about the work they do and willing to use their art to reach beyond the community. I strongly believe that the arts in academia are necessary. The arts provoke reaction and can better connect students, raise awareness of current issues, and motivate people to take action.  

Being an Arts Ambassador, my aim is to create a more connected community within CTSA in the hopes of ultimately lessening the divide between CTSA and the other departments across the entire campus. Not only does CTSA have plenty to offer the greater student body, but there are many students out there who are interested in the arts and simply aren’t aware of the many opportunities available at CTSA. As an Arts Ambassador, I want to cultivate cross-department collaborations and bring the arts to a wider audience.

Emma Walsh
Dance Major

UC Irvine was always my first choice school, so naturally when I received my acceptance letter I was thrilled! I knew that I wanted to continue dancing, but I also wanted to explore other academic areas. UC Irvine has given me the opportunity to participate as a member of the Campuswide Honors Program and add a second major in Education Sciences with a specialization in Children’s Learning and Development, all while training at a pre-professional level in the Dance Department. Within the Claire Trevor School of the Arts (CTSA), I hold the position of a Peer Academic Advisor, have held leadership positions in Arts-related clubs on campus, and have been a member of multiple dance ensembles including UC Irvine’s Etude Ensemble under the direction of modern dance legend Donald McKayle. 

I was drawn to the CTSA primarily because of the versatility offered through the Dance Department. I grew up studying ballet, modern, jazz, tap, and hip hop on a weekly basis and wanted to maintain training in multiple areas of dance as I transitioned to college. UC Irvine’s Dance Department is unique because students are required to train in ballet, modern, and jazz technique courses rather than focus in one area. Additionally, I love the fact that UC Irvine’s program feels like conservatory-style training despite its existence within a large research university. The program itself is quite small which makes it easier to develop a personal connection with other undergraduate students, graduate students, and even professors. 

I was motivated to become an Arts Ambassador so that I could share about what I do and why I do it. Many people I come in contact with on a day-to-day basis do not always understand what a major in the Arts looks like or what kinds of valuable skills it can instill in an individual. I study dance not only because of my love for performing, but also because I believe it is a universal language that can enhance community and communication skills both on and off stage. My choice to pursue dance in college has given me the skills to articulate myself to others in unique ways, the flexibility to combine my passion for dance and education in an interdisciplinary fashion, and the resources to research dance internationally in both Panama and Italy. I’m excited to continue to share my love for dance with others, increase awareness about what majoring and pursuing a career in the Arts looks like, and hopefully inspire others to follow their dreams like I have chosen to do! 

Alice Yang
Art Major

I developed a love for art-making at an early age, but I didn’t fully embrace my love for the arts until recently—nor did I genuinely consider it a valid career path. In high school, while my friends spoke excitedly about grad programs and promising internships, I got excited about hot press watercolor paper (we can just think of this as "special paper”). They were interested in medicine, science, engineering. My interests sounded like a shortcut to homelessness in comparison. 
It wasn’t until last year that I began to embrace the many resources UCI, or even CTSA has to offer. I joined Creative Connections, and taught visual art to kids in schools either without or with underdeveloped arts programs. In between surprisingly lengthy discussions about the relevance of art history and watching the kids light up when interacting with new, unfamiliar materials, I discovered a love for teaching and a bottomless appreciation for art education. Having grown up in the suburbs with parents who offered all the emotional and financial support they could manage—I was never lacking. Not in education, in resources, or in support. I grew up lucky, and beyond blessed. In my three years here, I’ve learned that a college education isn’t always an expectation or a guarantee. And an arts education is less so. 
I admit that my path, along with that of my colleagues’, is unconventional. This path is not clearcut. There’s no predetermined series of steps you follow or number of degrees you need to accumulate to become a "successful” artist, musician, dancer, or actor. It necessitates creative, sometimes ridiculous, out-of-the-box thinking for exactly that reason. That, to me, is a beautiful thing. My love for the arts has connected me to some of the most wonderfully articulate intellectuals I’ve met, and far too many vibrant personalities to count. The value of art might be difficult to quantify or contain, but that shouldn’t render it meritless. 
And, no. I don’t know what I’ll be doing in five years or even one. I know few who think they do. And even fewer who think they “really, actually” do. But at the very least I know what I love. I’ve loved it for the past two decades, and I plan on loving it for a couple more.

Able Zhang
Art Major

Able Zhang is my name, and I am a third-year art-major student here at the Claire Trevor School of the Arts. My main emphasis is, but not limited to, electronic art and design. I enjoy various art genres and mediums such as photography, performance art, filmmaking, and painting. Thanks to the most inclusive art program here, I get the chance to study multiple art areas and make as many cross-genre projects as I want. This is definitely not how I planned my college career two years ago, yet I like it very much, at least for now. 

When I was an incoming freshman, I got admitted by UCI as an undecided/undeclared student, and all I had wanted was to transfer to the business administration program, for the sake of a better job. However, I changed my idea before school started. I was in the freshman summer start program and heard a lot of experiences and stories from continuing students. They had distinct opinions on many stuff but one in common--what to study for college. Everyone was telling me I should study what I loved and was truly interested in, which made me think about the essential reason that I came to college in the United States from my home country, China.

"College is never about job preparation but about education."

It was the moment when my professor said this in lecture that made me decide that I should seek something I truly felt passionate about.  I knew I wanted to create something original to carry the references I made for expressing my identity and judgment. Therefore, I went to the Arts student affairs office the next day, had a long conversation with my counselor Megan, and declared my major as Art, for the singular reason that stronger than any others--this is what I love.

Of course there were and still are plenty of concerns coming after this decision. My parents are worrying about my future career. My old friends are questioning my unusual choice, and even I am asking myself whether this is the right way to go. After all, I had no art background during my past 18 years in China. And... So what? This is the place and time to study new things and areas that I am not aware of. This is the place and time to figure out what I want to do in the future. This is the place to actually be educated rather than to be trained. Instead of thinking about what could possibly be a little bit more beneficial for a high-paid job, I choose to pay my 100% attention to what I love at the moment. Life is filled with uncertainty. The past is what I cannot change and the future is what I cannot control. The one and the only one that I am certain about is the present.

Seize the life. I believe that is the essential reason I become an art student at this amazing arts school where I study, grow and love.