Fall 2010 / Spring 2011

Photo: Rachel Stretcher (BA '08)
Photo: Rachel Stretcher (BA '08)
“Art students have a sort of style of our own,” Boersma says. “We always assume we know what’s important and what isn’t and tend not to accept what other people tell us is important. An educated person ought to know a little bit about music, literature, art. All that stuff just enlightens you—makes it more fun to walk down the street.”

(Not-So-) Old School

Thirty-six years ago, Columbia left its mark on him. Now, with a School of Liberal Arts and Sciences scholarship established in his name, Jay Boersma is leaving his mark on Columbia.


With the changing tides in technology and digital art over the past three decades, it’s safe to say that Jay Boersma has had to adapt and evolve throughout his career. A photographer by nature and training and designer by trade, the 1974 Columbia College alumnus spent his time as an undergraduate student hunkered down in the darkroom, enveloped in his work. The college’s curriculum then was such that Boersma and his fellow students devoted the majority of their time toward perfecting their craft. Thus, photography was the driving force behind his undergraduate education.

But Boersma had other interests: science fiction, film, literature, and architecture. And it was precisely these interests, he says, that contributed heavily to making him an engaged and educationally well-rounded person. “Art students have a sort of style of our own,” Boersma says. “We always assume we know what’s important and what isn’t and tend not to accept what other people tell us is important. An educated person ought to know a little bit about music, literature, art. All that stuff just enlightens you—makes it more fun to walk down the street.”

Boersma explains this within the confines of his office at Playboy Enterprises in Chicago, where he’s worked as the Senior Creative Director of Playboy.com since 1996. His walls are plastered with everything from rare Playboy memorabilia—namely a glass-encased, limited edition Fender guitar emblazoned with an image of Marilyn Monroe—to an extensive collection of female action figures tacked onto a wall from floor to ceiling. Shelves and counter space are occupied by artist-signed comic book art, a few classic jazz CDs, books on typography, and souvenirs from foreign countries, such as a placemat brought back from a restaurant in France. Eclectic and diverse, his office décor is fairly representative of the many areas in the liberal arts that interest him—areas he’s invested time into understanding and appreciating over the years. “Regardless of where you get it, that’s what makes your life rich,” he says of the liberal arts.

As a result of his longtime support of the liberal arts and sciences, Dean Deborah H. Holdstein, who is married to Boersma, established the Jay W. Boersma Endowed Scholarship Fund in his honor. Created in December of 2009, the scholarship will be available annually to juniors and seniors who major in one of the disciplines in the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) at Columbia. Students with a double-major, as well as those working toward an LAS Interdisciplinary degree, will also be considered, provided one of the majors is in the School of LAS, and students who apply will be required to submit a 500-word essay, possess a GPA of 3.5 or higher, and receive aid through FAFSA.

“We at Columbia College Chicago have long seen the need for scholarships for students to come to and stay at Columbia, and I saw an additional need to fund scholarships for students majoring in our liberal arts and sciences, and who join that major with other areas in the college,” Dean Holdstein says. “Jay understands a lot about culture and context and history, and that enhances the production of any art. I also liked the idea of honoring my husband, an artist who believes very strongly in the liberal arts and sciences.”

After graduating from Columbia in 1974 with a degree in Fine Art Photography, Boersma—whose work is in the permanent collection at the Art Institute of Chicago—went on to complete an MFA in Photography at the Rhode Island School of Design. After teaching at Bradley University and the University of Illinois, Boersma became a professor at Governors State University in 1981, earning tenure several years later. After fifteen years there, he returned to his roots as an artist at Playboy, where he says a solid foundation in the liberal arts still plays a major role in his decisions and work as a creative director, especially when hiring new talent.

“Is this a person whom I can have a conversation with, who thinks about things in a broad way and enjoys having new experiences?” Boersma says he asks himself when interviewing prospective employees. “That’s kind of crucial here. If you thought you were done learning you’d be gone.”

When the endowment for the Jay W. Boersma Endowed Scholarship Fund matures financially, the School of LAS will begin selecting recipients. Depending on the size of the endowment, one or more students could receive up to $5,000 annually. Dean Holdstein says she hopes individuals who share her and her husband’s commitment to the liberal arts and sciences will show their enthusiasm by contributing to the scholarship—even as Dean Holdstein and Boersma continue their own contributions to the fund.

“All of our students are worthy of getting support to complete an education at Columbia College Chicago,” Dean Holdstein says. “This is one significant way to ensure that one or two or however many students we support will have the help to do so.”

The Jay W. Boersma Endowed Scholarship Funds needs your help. To contribute, please contact Nancy Rampson, Director of Development, at nrampson@colum.edu or 312.369.8506. Enjoy Jay Boersma’s photography at re-vision.com. Boersma is represented by the Joseph Gallery.