Illustration Major and Environmental Studies Minor Shane Tolentino Combines Passions to Follow Her Dreams

PhotoCredit: Shane Tolentino
For Shane Tolentino, Columbia became home not only because of the community she built here, but because the institution was well-poised to offer opportunities to live, study, and aspire expansively.

For Shane Tolentino, Columbia became home not only because of the community she built here, but because the institution was well-poised to offer opportunities to live, study, and aspire expansively. With a focus on a well-rounded education Columbia graduates are able to find employment in a variety of fields from the arts to STEM and beyond. For Tolentino, the fact that Columbia had a plan in place for supporting her interest in science as well as art made coming to the college an easy decision.

The School of Liberal Arts and Sciences prepares students for their future livelihoods through constant exposure to those critical thinking and communication skills that are essential and highly sought by industry and nonprofit organizations. “The Columbia Core general education requirements reflect the uniqueness and diversity of the undergraduate experience at Columbia College Chicago by exposing students to traditional liberal arts and sciences disciplines, offered through courses tailored to their creative interests,” said the Dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences Steven Corey. The College offers faculty who are experts in their fields and who are on the cutting edge of their crafts. "[They] provide students with experiences that build from actual situations that address problems with innovative solutions,” continued Dean Corey.

Students who are passionate about multiple disciplines are able to benefit from the variety of opportunities at Columbia that differ from the traditional art experience. Shane Tolentino, an Illustration major and Environmental Studies minor graduating in December 2020, has always been a creative. Her earliest art-related memories were of stealing her mom’s makeup to draw on the walls. Her parents encouraged Tolentino to continue making art but helped her focus her creative energy on other surfaces. In 5th grade, Tolentino first became conscious of wanting to improve her art skills. Tolentino began to perceive and imitate art that she liked in the hopes of becoming better, and she continued to do so until it culminated in her excelling in high school art classes, getting into local shows, and winning a few awards. Tolentino then decided to attend Columbia College Chicago to pursue a degree in Illustration.

While knowing that she wanted to pursue art, one of Tolentino’s favorite classes in high school was AP Environmental Science. It was a class she looked forward to every morning. While looking at art schools, Tolentino saw that Columbia has an extensive list of minors, including Environmental Studies, and she knew that despite being a BFA student and attempting to graduate early, she wanted to pursue the minor.

Of the Environmental Studies minor, Tolentino says that the minor has provided her with a balance. “While I love my studio classes and they're the primary reason I'm here, science and the study of it has always resonated with me. Going through my program, I loved being able to read, take notes, and study for my Ecology class and then switch gears and feel refreshed when working on my studio projects. By using different parts of my brain, it prevents me from hyperfixating and burning out, as I tend to do when only working on creative work,” she added.

wildfire illlustration
Credit: Shane Tolentino 

Tolentino says that nature has always been a great source of inspiration for her. She often walks around the Skokie forest preserves and creates art inspired from Natural History: The Ultimate Visual Guide to Everything on Earth, a book published by the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Tolentino says, “As someone who draws from the environment in more ways than one, I find it critically important to learn about the science behind this all, so I'm better informed about the world around me, and the Environmental Science minor has helped me to do that.”

Columbia has done more than foster Tolentino’s interest in both science and the arts. It has also prepared directly prepared her for and connected her to internships that are directly related to both fields. In what would be a dream placement for anyone interested in illustration and science, Tolentino is currently working in an internship at NASA’s Johnson Space Center where she has been working within the Orion program to illustrate and visualize the future of space travel and technology. Tolentino hopes to be able to stay on the team after her internship ends. “A farther off goal of mine is to pursue my MFA in illustration and come back to teach in the illustration program. I believe in the program's mission, their values, and the way they support and instruct their students and I would love nothing more than to be able to pass on that love of illustration praxis to a new generation of students,” says Tolentino.

Her advice to other current students is to apply to internships, jobs, and anything else they can. After all, tolentino landed her internship at NASA following a conversation with her illustration professor Ivan Brunetti. Tolentino was outlining her ideal career path and worries about the feasibility of her aspirations and Brunetti told her that she could tell him that she wanted to be an astronaut and he wouldn't doubt that she could do it. “Curious, I then looked up the kinds of opportunities NASA had, and jokingly asked Ivan for a letter of recommendation. The subject of the email was "I'm going to become an astronaut!" A few weeks after I had applied to their internship program, I got an interview and then an offer to work at Johnson Space Center to create illustrations for them, and I sent Ivan another email with the subject line I'm actually going to the moon this time!’ to tell him the good news,” Tolentino shared.
nasa moon kit illustration

Credit: Shane Tolentino 

On advice for prospective students, Tolentino says, “Do your research. Talk to heads of programs, find alumni, find current students, and have real genuine conversations about what it's like to move through that program. I personally have loved my time at Columbia, but there was a period where I didn't consider it to be one of my top schools. That changed when I talked to then-junior illustration student Kane Gilland, and talking with him about the program and learning about ISG, the professors, and all of that really made me feel like I found my place. I'm thankful to him and to my professors, Chris Arnold, Chris Eliopoulos, and Ivan Brunetti for igniting that love for the program from the very first day. Even today it's hard for me to not get super excited when talking about it! I think that excitement and love for what you do is key to not only being successful in school, but professionally as well.”

If you’re interested in attending Columbia or learning more about programs Columbia offers, see here.


Sarah Borchardt
Communications Manager