College of Arts and Architecture to honor accomplished alumni at awards ceremony

The College of Arts and Architecture will honor seven accomplished alumni during its annual awards ceremony at 4 p.m. Friday, April 17, in Esber Recital Hall. Honorees include Douglas N. Dow (Art History), Christian Baldini (Music), Gina Narracci (Architecture), Frederick R. Bonci (Landscape Architecture), Michael Smanko (Theatre), Gabe Kean (Graphic Design) and Simeon Wilkins (Visual Arts). The ceremony, open to the public, will also include presentation of student awards and scholarships and faculty and staff awards for excellence.

As part of the alumni’s visit, they will meet with students and faculty, sharing advice and their paths to success.

Douglas N. Dow (Class of 1997, master of arts; Class of 2006, doctorate in art history) is an associate professor of art history at Kansas State University, currently on sabbatical in Florence, Italy. He came to Penn State as a graduate student in art history in 1995 after completing his bachelor of arts degree in art history and English at the University of Maine. He was a standout as a graduate student, in the field of Italian Renaissance art. He completed his M.A. in 1997 and entered the Ph.D. program, graduating in 2006. Since that time he has continued to distinguish himself as a leading expert in the Florentine art of the 16th century. He has written a widely-praised book, "Apostolic Iconography and Florentine Confraternities in the Age of Reform," published in 2014. He has also continued to receive scholarly and teaching awards and fellowships from his home institution as well as national and international institutions. During his current residential fellowship in Florence, he is conducting research for his next major book project.

Christian Baldini (Class of 2005, master of music in conducting) joined the University of California at Davis faculty in 2009, serving as the music director of the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra. In addition to his work there, he regularly conducts several international orchestras, including the Munich Radio Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Buenos Aires Philharmonic and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, among others. He made his debut conducting the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in December. Equally at home in the core symphonic and operatic repertoire and in the most daring corners of contemporary music, he has presented world premieres of more than 70 works. Christian has been a featured composer at the Acanthes Festival in France and the Ginastera Festival in London. In addition to his Penn State degree, he holds degrees from the State University of New York at Buffalo (doctorate in composition) and the Catholic University of Argentina (bachelor’s degree in conducting and composition).

Gina Narracci (Class of 1995, bachelor's in architecture) joined the firm Pelli Clarke Pelli in 1997, where she has been a designer or a senior designer for many of the firm’s performing arts centers. Gina serves as design team leader for the McCormick Place Events Center in Chicago and for the new performing arts center in Salt Lake City, Utah. She was the project architect for Hancher Auditorium, a 1,800-seat proscenium theater at University of Iowa; the Theatre School, a performance and teaching facility for DePaul University; and the Performing Arts Center at Western Illinois University. She was the senior designer for the BOK Center, sharing project management responsibilities for the 18,000-seat arena in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and for the Schuster Performing Arts Center in Dayton, Ohio. In addition, she was a project architect for the master plan of the Duke University Central Campus. Gina has been a teaching fellow at the Yale School of Architecture and has been a guest critic at Temple University and Penn State.

Frederick R. Bonci (Class of 1973, bachelor's in landscape architecture) is a founding partner in the Pittsburgh-based firm LaQuatra Bonci, which provides professional landscape architectural, urban design and planning services. The practice, founded in 1984, has focused on a variety of project types, including intimate gardens, public gathering places, civic destinations, urban neighborhoods, urban parks, public open spaces, and corporate and institutional campuses. As a volunteer at Penn State, Fred has been engaged as an active member of the Arts and Architecture Alumni Society, where he continues to take a leadership role in advancing the society’s scholarship fundraising initiatives. He served a two-year term as the alumni society’s president in 2011-13, spearheading the alumni society’s involvement in the College of Arts and Architecture’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2013.

Michael Smanko (Class of 1977, master of fine arts in theatre) has worked professionally in the production props business for more than 40 years and has been a member of Broadway and touring staffs since 1974. Mike has toured the world with the companies of Alvin Ailey, Martha Graham and Robert Joffrey, traveling to 36 countries on five continents. His Broadway credits include the original production of Michael Bennett’s "Dreamgirls"; several productions directed by George C. Wolfe, including "Bring in da Noise … Bring in da Funk" and "Harlem Song"; and Disney’s "Aida." More recent credits include Edward Albee’s "The Goat," "The Rocky Horror Show," "Thoroughly Modern Millie" and "Hairspray." In 1986, Mike founded Prism Production Services as an entity for the design and fabrication of specialty props. In 1997, Prism was expanded to become a full-service shop with specialty areas in wood, metal and miniature automation, in addition to paint, sculpting and soft prop fabrication. With a staff of 23, Prism Production Services had credits on most productions on tour and on Broadway. The Prism partnership ended in 2004 but was restarted in 2007 as Prism Props, supplying creative stage props and décor to the theatrical industry.

Gabe Kean (Class of 1995, bachelor of arts in graphic design) is principal and design director at Belle & Wissell, Co. based in Seattle. For more than 15 years, Gabe has been designing and leading teams to craft participatory experiences blending design and technology whenever possible. These experiences include interactive installations, exhibitions and touch-based experiences for organizations like the Milwaukee Art Museum, Harley-Davidson Museum, Clyfford Still Museum, American Battle Monuments Commission, Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum and the Amazon campus. His design work and projects have received numerous industry awards and recognition. Gabe was also the founder of an award-winning nonprofit organization called Born Presents, which from 1997 to 2011 brought artists and writers together to collaborate in the creation of experimental interactive experiences on the web.

Simeon Wilkins  (Class of 2001, master of fine arts in printmaking) has always been fascinated by the power of images to tell stories. As an undergraduate printmaker at Kutztown University, he began his exploration by creating dark figurative imagery — diptychs and triptychs — suggesting linear connections between the works. This continued into his graduate work at Penn State. Fueled by the methods used by graphic novels and cinema to tell a story, Simeon worked to create narrative spaces within the images themselves. After receiving his master of fine arts in printmaking from Penn State, Simeon relocated to Los Angeles. He soon met renowned director Guillermo del Toro and asked the man for a job as a storyboard artist. What began as a one-week promise led to eight months on the film "Hellboy." He has since made a career at “drawing the movies before they shoot the movies,” working on such diverse films as "Monster House," "Ted 1 and 2," "Cabin in the Woods," "Trick r Treat," "The Smurfs 1 and 2," and "Angels & Demons." He wrote and developed a screenplay for Robert Zemeckis and Disney, titled "Calling All Robots!," which he was also able to storyboard. He recently finished working on the upcoming horror films "Poltergeist" and "Krampus." 

Last Updated April 16, 2015