Minnie Phan: How I Got to CCA

Minnie Phan with work presented at her Junior Review

Prior to hearing about CCA, college was not an option in my mind. Aside from financial issues and living in an immigrant household with little experience with higher education, my teenage years were rocky.

I never thought more than two steps ahead when it came to my future. I struggled throughout my schooling and was consumed with (infamous and debilitating) angst. I spent many nights alone.

The turning point of my life occurred when I began to use my hobby of art as an outlet -- as therapy, even. Having my sketchbooks and journals bear witness to my manic thoughts and wild ideas became something of a ritual. It became a channel for every stupid decision I had made, every jerk who harassed me, every class I failed.

Art and writing became profound parts of my persona, and, thankfully, I found a community and companionship in fellow artists.

Pre-College: Something to Look Forward To

Toward the end of my junior year, I had built a strong relationship with my high school art teacher, Michael Doyle, who approached me one day with something he'd received in the mail: a postcard for CCA's Pre-College Program. I remember reading words that felt unreal: a month-long program, surrounded by students my age, taking college-level art classes of my choosing.

Up until then, I had only taken one art class and learned the rest of my skills from comic books. I applied to the program and received a partial scholarship. My parents immediately said "no" to paying for me to "draw for fun," but I fundraised on my own to cover the rest of the cost.

Pre-College proved to be an incredible taste of what college could be. I met Barron Storey, who introduced me to Illustration. Barron had an enormous influence on my work and remains an incredible mentor to me today.

In regards to my peers, the program took everything I loved about my high school artist community and magnified it. Instead of a small (financially neglected) department, it was an entire school! People weren't just drawing and painting; they were also sculpting, printing, filming, writing. Every student was excited and motivated!

As a 17-year-old, I was intimidated but so inspired.

No Other Option

Following that experience, art became something concrete in my life. I had other interests and hobbies, but art was my passion. Being creative was my most comfortable and natural state. Whether it was making art or consuming it through the form of comic books, movies, or literature, I absorbed everything.

Now that I'd discovered that I could actually go to school for art, I was sold. There was no other option. I wanted my passion to be my career. I wanted to make an honest living, to communicate with the world, to breathe and live in a creative environment.

Scholarships, and Flurry of Fundraising

As our senior year progressed, college application deadlines loomed over my high school class of 2010. Many of my peers chose to go across the country, and I thought I was going to do the same until I received my acceptance and financial aid award letters from CCA.

The scholarship CCA gave me was very generous, but did not fully cover me. Having been refugees, my parents worried about my future and were hesitant to even allow me to go to art school (let alone help pay for it). I understood where they were coming from, but I was determined to study what I cared most about.

I decided to do the same thing I did for Pre-College: spend hours upon hours researching scholarships and writing essays. After months of essay writing and interviewing, I graduated high school with an additional $10,000 scholarship from the Bay Area community. It was incredible to think, "Not long ago I barely made it through a semester with a GPA higher than a 2.0, and now I am about to go to COLLEGE with great scholarships to boot!"

I remember saying goodbye to my parents when they dropped me off at Clifton that August. My mom gave me a hug and bought me lunch from Boston Market. My dad told me to call him if I needed anything.

Now a Senior at CCA

Fast forward to 2013. I am entering my senior year at CCA, and I feel grateful every day. I appreciate the Bay Area, and have come to completely respect and admire my parents. I've built a multidisciplinary social network fueled by admiration and respect.

Most importantly, at CCA I have learned to balance technical improvement with expanding my critical thinking. I have worked through many issues within myself, especially having to do with my own identity and race, and I have been given a chance to bring that onto a larger platform.

CCA has become, for me, not just a place of learning, but a place of transformation. Higher education truly is what YOU make of it. I've participated in student leadership for two years, earned a scholarship in my department (using the award to fund a life-changing trip to Vietnam, where I explored my roots and researched for my senior thesis), helped with Pre-College, taught English to international students, and built lasting relationships with staff and faculty.

I am so grateful to the people along the way who helped me: my high school art teacher; CCA Illustration alumni Grim Wilkins, Mike Manomivibul, and Brynn Metheney for sharing their insight with Pre-College students; Jane Brady in the Admissions Office for always responding to my emails; and the many community members who have helped fund my education.

It is CCA's community that I cherish most. I love that it is about support and improvement, not judging or triumphing over others.

Learning to Make Art that Matters

I am still unsure what will come next after I graduate. Maybe I'll teach, or freelance, or throw caution to the wind and travel. Regardless, I know that I will continue to learn, even without the promise of a degree attached. I've learned to make art with meaning and passion, and to bring that fire to everything I do.

* * * * *

Editor's Note:

Check out Minnie Phan's website Minniephan.com or like her on Facebook!

Minnie Phan (Illustration 2014) received a merit scholarship (the Creative Achievement Award) and a CCA scholarship when she applied as a first-year student, and both have been renewed every year since. After her junior review, she received the Richard and Jean Coyne Family Foundation Illustration Scholarship.

Learn more about CCA-funded scholarships »

Minnie grew up all over the Bay Area: was born in Stockton, spent her childhood in Fremont, Hayward, and Union City, then graduated from high school in Pleasanton. She has been very active in Chimera, CCA's student leadership group, and she works for Grace Remy in the Office of Special Programs, helping with programs and services for international students.

Read previous installments in the "How I Got here" series:

Anesta Iwan (Architecture 2013) »
Matthew Harrison Tedford (Visual and Critical Studies 2011) »