Sophomore review keeps students in the dark

Latisha Ellison

Sophomore review is a crucial milestone in a visual communication design (VCD) student’s college career; however, the criteria for passing is the school of VCD’s best kept secret.

Sophomore review is the process every VCD and photo illustration major must go through before moving on in the program. VCD students go through review after their third semester and photo illustration students their fourth semester.

“The students are submitting projects from their first three or four semesters of studio classes,” said Sara Sobeh, College of Communication and Information (CCI) Study Abroad Coordinator and Advisor.

Sophomore Review from Latisha Ellison on Vimeo.

Sobeh said around week 11, students receive an email informing them of the classes they need to submit work from and when to drop off their portfolios. There is a panel of full-time faculty members who will then look at each students’ work to determine whether or not they can move on in the program.

Students turn in their portfolios without any prior knowledge of what the faculty will be looking for; professors aren’t allowed to discuss the reviewing process with their students.

Sophomore VCD major Olivia Barbour thinks the review is a great way to understand where students’ skills are, but has some issues with the process itself.

“It was super stressful because you have no idea what’s going on,” Barbour said. “The most stressful part is that you have absolutely no idea going in if you’re going to pass or fail, because they don’t give you standards.”

After a week of review, students receive an email informing them that their letters are ready to be picked up. The letters inform the students of whether they have passed review with a Bachelor of Arts (BA), passed with an invitation to the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) program or if they have failed review.

Barbour passed and was invited into the BFA program, which she accepted, but was surprised by the invitation because she didn’t know what the faculty would be looking for. It’s unclear why professors aren’t allowed to talk in detail about review and VCD Interim Director Jaime Kennedy declined to comment on the process and reason for review.

“For the visual design students, it’s (review) a way to get invited to the BFA, and for some students it’s to see if maybe the skills are not quite there,” Sobeh said. “So it’s like a way to say ‘unfortunately in three semesters of doing studio, the skills are not quite there, so let’s help you find a better major that better suits your skills and where you need to be.’”

Those with an invitation to switch to the BFA can decide to move up or stick with the BA program. The BFA is invitation-only and allows the students to take more challenging classes than the regular BA program.

Students who fail sophomore review have two options: they can retake some classes and do a re-review or they can switch their major.

“They’re (faculty) looking at different things when looking at the portfolios: they’re looking at their (the students) craftsmanship, their understanding of the concepts the students have been taking in their classes, and based on that they’ll (faculty) determine which way they go,” Sobeh said.

Kaycee Criss, a sophomore fashion merchandising major, said that one letter made her rethink her entire plan. Coming to Kent as a VCD major, Criss never imagined she would be a fashion merchandising major, but when she received her letter, she immediately thought of a new direction.

“Opening that letter and seeing ‘We’re sorry to inform you that you didn’t meet the requirements,’ is just, it’s kind of heartbreaking, but also relieving at the same time,” Criss said.

After she received her letter, Criss had a meeting with Kennedy and he told her to retake a class, but wouldn’t specifically tell her what she needed to improve upon. She knew she didn’t want to put herself through the stress and sleep deprivation she had the previous semesters, so Criss switched her major.

Several students switch their majors after review if they do not pass, but the exact number of students who do so is unknown.

Kennedy would not provide numbers in regard to the number of students who pass and fail review, and a public records request to the university to obtain those numbers also went unanswered.

Latisha Ellison is the CCI reporter for The Kent Stater, contact her at [email protected].