Olivet College
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Sometimes it takes a leap of faith to get you where you need to be. Mahalia Stelter, a senior majoring in visual arts knows that all too well; she chose Olivet College on a gut feeling and accepted enrollment before even visiting the campus. Now in her final semester as an Olivet College student, Mahalia is still happy about her decision and has a lot to look back on.

Small Class Size. Big Rewards.

In a major where so much of the grade is based on your professors knowing you as a student, and how you’ve grown as an artist, it’s easy to see why Mahalia might have ​gravitated towards a smaller college like Olivet.

“You’re not just a number, your professors actually know you. I like the individual one-on-one [interactions] we are able to do. Especially in the art department. I’ve never been in a class with more than 30 kids and in the art department, never more than 10.”

Not one to learn well on her own, Mahalia spoke about her need for that one-on-one interaction she’s received at Olivet.

“I need a professor there to help me and ask questions. That’s been better for me. With art, I don’t know how you could do it without that feedback and having critiques. Learning is probably different in the art world.”

But, it’s more than the class size that kept Mahalia happy at Olivet. She also appreciated the relaxed atmosphere her classes have offered and the thoughtful critiques she has received from her professors.

“Classes are very laid back, not judgmental. It’s about learning and figuring out what’s best for us. They’re very helpful for learning the technical aspects of art, but then they are also exploratory. Figuring out what you’re interested in.”

Professors Who Go Above and Beyond

While Mahalia can say she’s had a great experience with all of her professors, one in particular has made a huge impact on her, helping her grow as an artist.

“All of the professors in the art department care about their students, but Thia Eller has helped me the most. She’s not just my mentor she’s my friend, and I think that’s something very special that we’re able to do here. You can actually become friends with your professors.”

Mahalia praises Thia’s laid back and open approach to critiquing student work. Ultimately feeling that she wants nothing more than to see her students succeed and be happy – whatever that may mean to them as an individual.

“Thia always says you have this one precious life. What are you going to do with it? You don’t have to do what everyone else says. I think that’s awesome because it’s not just about what you learn in the art world, it’s a lot of life lessons, too.”

Going Outside the Comfort Zone

Thia didn’t just help Mahalia grow inside of the classroom, she pushed her to go outside of her comfort zone and experience the art world overseas as well. In conjunction with the other professors in the art department, Thia awarded Mahalia a scholarship which she could use towards an internship or a study abroad experience – an honor only given to one or two students per year. Mahalia chose to study abroad in Greece and Italy during the summer of 2015 at the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts.

“Thia encouraged me to [go abroad]. And that’s scary, going away from home for 3.5 months. It wasn’t easy, but I learned a lot about myself and that is because of her, because she’s always challenging students to go outside of their comfort zones.”

Initially, Mahalia did not want to go to Italy – a decision that might surprise many artists around the world. Known as the capitol of the art world, Italy is a must-see for any budding artist. For that reason, Mahalia’s professors quickly talked her into adding a trip to Italy on her itinerary.

“I was dead set against going to Italy, I just wanted to go to Greece. My professors said NO! You have to go to Italy, it’s the center of the art world, you have to go. And I’m so glad I did! You see it on slides and then you get there and it’s in front of you, it’s a crazy experience. And really inspirational.”

Advice and Plans for the Future

When asked if she has any advice for the students following in her footsteps she said, “The education is here [at Olivet College], take advantage of it. You’ve got to come to the lectures, help set up the exhibitions. Put in the time outside of class. And listen to your professors, they know what they’re talking about. They have an opinion, but it’s an educated opinion. So listen to them.”

After graduation, Mahalia plans to take a year off and work on her painting skills or even volunteer at Camphill in Ireland, where she can work with people with mental disabilities. Ultimately, she plans to attend grad school and find a job working in biological illustration, “I really like Notre Dame or U of M”.

Currently, Mahalia is in the process of getting ready for her senior exhibition. Each senior picks their own theme and will each display 10 pieces this coming April. To see her work, and the work of her classmates, stop by the exhibition starting April 7 at the Kresge Foundation Art Gallery in the Riethmiller Blackman Art Building at Olivet College.

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