Finding Her Passion Within the College of Arts & Letters

Kelly smiling and holding up a letterpress print

Kelly Mackie first came to Michigan State University to study Hospitality Business, but after her freshman year, the former pre-professional classical ballet dancer felt a creative void that was once filled by dance and classical music. Looking to fill this void, she turned to MSU’s College of Arts & Letters to stretch her artistic skills in a whole new direction.

An Honors College student, Mackie discovered within the Department of Art, Art History, and Design that she had a passion for graphic design.

“When I found graphic design, I felt like this is my thing. This is my calling. This is what I was meant to do,” she said.

On May 8, Mackie graduated with a B.F.A. in Graphic Design and a B.A. in Hospitality Business, and this month she will begin a new job as a Junior Designer for Team Detroit’s Hudson Rouge team.

“This is my dream job,” she said. “I am counting down the minutes until I start on this new chapter.”

woman working on local food poster, putting together fresh food in the shape of michigan

Choosing MSU

Mackie’s future wasn’t always so crystal clear. Before coming to MSU, she was training 40-50 hours a week to be a classical ballet dancer. Having trained all around the country, she attended high school at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

“There was a lot of tremendous opportunity there, but when I got to my senior year of high school, my heart just wasn’t in it for the long haul,” she said. “Still I would not trade that experience for the world. It totally shaped me as a person, but I know it wasn’t right for me.”

I didn’t have a creative outlet.

Her desire to become the next Martha Stewart, brought her to Michigan State University to study Hospitality Business, but still she found something was missing.

“My freshman year I was taking all these business classes, and I was really struggling, not academically, but in my heart,” Mackie said. “I didn’t have a creative outlet. I wasn’t hearing classical music every day any more. I just felt like a huge part of me had been torn away.”

Finding Her Passion

To fill that void, Mackie started taking art and graphic design classes.

“It was just for fun at first, but then I started to notice that people were paying attention to my work and teachers were telling me that I should enter things into shows, and that was all I was thinking about,” Mackie said.

Her sophomore year, she took Graphic Design II with former Adjunct Instructor Barbara Hranilovich, who told her “I am watching you struggle against this. You want so badly to be a graphic designer, but you are not letting yourself. Stop kidding yourself, you are meant to be an artist. If you fight this, you are going to regret not devoting yourself to your passion.”

woman working on cutting paper with xacto knife

That was Mackie’s first wake up call. The second came after she interviewed for a graphic design internship during her junior year.

“I got a call back and was told that I was passionate about design, but that I just wasn’t there yet. I was told my ideas are strong, but the way I was developing them was just not as mature as they should be,” Mackie said. “That crushed my dreams a little bit, but at the same time it was the final push I needed. When that happened, I told myself I had 365 days to step up my game, to better build out my ideas, to have more time to network, and get more work experience, that’s not so bad. Looking back on it, I am so thankful they were honest with me. They basically saved my career.”

That crushed my dreams a little bit, but at the same time it was the final push I needed.

This past year, Mackie worked hard in all of her classes and caught up on all the things she needed to get her B.F.A. in Graphic Design. She also won a Silver ADDY Award for her “Top 100” project she completed in her Interactive Web Design class and was among the top three in the MSUFCU mural competition. She’s done special projects collaborations with professors and served as President of the local MSU chapter of AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts).

Looking Ahead to the Future

All her hard worked paid off as she was able to land a job before graduation. She also credits the Spartan network with helping her throughout her college career.

“The best part of MSU that I have experienced is the people,” Mackie said. “I have been absolutely floored by professors, bosses, students and other majors by their willingness to share their time and their talents. If you reach out, there is someone on the other end of that conversation who is ready and willing and able to help you. I just have never experienced that much of an outpouring of support in any other setting and it blows my mind. The Spartan network is unbelievable.”

Some day Mackie would like to use both her MSU degrees by owning and managing her own design firm.

I think it would be awesome to own my own business because I would be able to give opportunities to other people.

“A lot of artists are really great artists, but they are terrible business people,” she said. “That is where my Hospitality Business major will really come into play and will be vital in my development as a leader.

“In the long run, my dream is to have a dog-friendly design firm in Holland, Michigan. I think it would be awesome to own my own business because I would be able to give opportunities to other people. We could create a wonderful community of artists, and there would be dogs because dogs make everything better.”