Student Spotlight: Zoey Hughes

Zoey Hughes

Sand Springs native Zoey Hughes began her college career at a different school, but found it was not a good fit, feeling lost among a sea of other students. When she found out about the University of Science & Arts of Oklahoma’s small class sizes, intimate atmosphere and stellar academics, she transferred immediately and is now set to graduate next spring with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in expanded media. USAO’s interdisciplinary environment was one of the major factors that drew Hughes to the school.

“I feel as though I can be as creative as I desire to be here,” she said. “If I have an idea, my professors not only push me to make it a reality, but they help me every step of the way. I have always felt comfortable and encouraged to be myself.”

Given her emphasis on creativity, it is no surprise that Hughes chose to study art, particularly USAO’s expanded media program, which combines a wide range of artistic techniques to allow students a broader array of expressive possibilities. Hughes knew that she could never be solely a painter or photographer or other single medium, so she has felt right at home in this constantly changing environment. After graduation, she plans to use the skills she is developing to pursue a career in graphic design and photography, though she hopes to complete a Master of Fine Arts and eventually go into the curatorial world.

Hughes has already gained some experience in curation thanks to USAO’s Art Wrecker Studio in downtown Chickasha. This professional gallery allows undergraduates to exhibit and work in an art gallery before graduation, and it also provides a vibrant cultural space for the local community to come together. One of Art Wrecker’s regular events is a haunted house around Halloween, which Hughes has been a part of for two years running.

“Last year, I had the opportunity to be a team leader,” she said. “Building a haunted house from the ground up was such a challenge and a learning opportunity, but it was so worth it to scare the locals. I loved serving as a leader to my group, and the memories I made there will stay with me forever.”

Jordan Vinyard, dean of the school of visual and performing arts and associate professor of art, runs the day-to-day operations at Art Wrecker. She is also the creator of the art department’s expanded media program. Given these credentials, it makes sense that she has become one of Hughes’ biggest mentors on campus, as well as her advisor.

“She has been someone I’ve looked up to since day one,” said Hughes. “She gave me the courage to not settle for a path that I wasn’t completely passionate about, and she pushed me to break barriers within myself. I would have never had that courage to put myself out there if it wasn’t for her telling me I’m worth it.”

Hughes got further validation of her worth as an artist when she was chosen to be a part of the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition’s “Momentum” exhibition in Oklahoma City this year. A competitive showcase for young artists that serves as an entry into the professional art world, the experience of being part of the show forever changed Hughes.

“To even be chosen was a great honor for me, and being chosen as the honorable mention for the show was an even bigger honor (the cash prize didn’t hurt either!),” she said. “I couldn’t believe the response I got for my piece. It gave me affirmation that people do respond and feel for my artwork.”

Hughes has also been gaining further experience working in the art world as part of the committee for the Sunny Dayz Mural Festival, a women/nonbinary-only art event that took place in Tulsa Sept. 9.

The variety of experiences Hughes has been able to partake in while still in college is one of the main things that sets USAO apart in her mind.

“If the ‘normal’ college experience doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then I would recommend USAO,” said Hughes. “I have never had a normal day here, and that has made my experience amazing. I have always believed that if you are always kind, no matter the situation, you will receive that kindness back, and it is no coincidence that the most successful students here are those that are kind to others.”