#PSUBeforeAfter: Arts & Architecture students participate in a four-year project

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Four years ago, the College of Arts and Architecture embarked upon an ambitious project, inviting all of its incoming students to take a “before” and “after” photo during their first year at Penn State and complete an interview about themselves, to see how much they change during college. Encouraged by faculty members after seeing an article in The New York Times, Stephanie Swindle Thomas, public relations specialist in the college, took the project upon herself and photographed and interviewed students for #PSUBeforeAfter at the beginning and end of their freshman year, with the promise of doing one more “after” photo shoot at the end of their senior year.

For the first-year photo shoot, students were encouraged to bring personal items to their photo sessions. Others brought friends and spent extra time in front of the camera having fun and being themselves, leading to a 2015 album of outtakes in the #PSUBeforeAfter Extras Gallery. When it came time for the fourth-year revisit of the project, students returned to share their Penn State stories and sit for another portrait taken by Thomas, who then asked them what advice they would give their “before” selves, and completed their “exit interviews.” 

"I feel so lucky that I got to be part of this Before/After project because it really shows me how much I've changed since I came to Penn State, and let me reflect on it," said participant Andrew Marshall, a senior art history major in the Integrated Undergraduate-Graduate Dual Degree Program through the Schreyer Honors College, with a minor in entrepreneurship and innovation.

Although some students did not complete the follow-up or are no longer at Penn State, the experience helped forge relationships between student participants and Thomas that led to a close-knit group of art education seniors who are currently student teaching in Pittsburgh and virtually participating in the project. It also led to  freelance job opportunities and collaborations for participant Sarah Nachtman, whose passion for photography inspired her to start her own photography business.

“Not only as the person interviewing and photographing them over the course of this project, but also as the college photographer, news writer, and social media manager, I’ve seen these students grow and change over the last four years, from documenting their performances and art openings to regramming them [reposting on Instagram] on social,” Thomas noted. “Those connections are what make my job so special to me.”   

On Saturday, Thomas will have one more opportunity to photograph many of the students during Commencement exercises and at the subsequent departmental receptions. Then, the project will begin again in the fall with a new group of freshmen being invited to participate in the second iteration.

“It’s about making meaning,” added Thomas. “Dean Korner proposed the theme of ‘Engaged Empathy’ across the college at the beginning of last year, and I think this project is one example of how we are trying to make that connection.”

To see the 2018 #PSUBeforeAfter "outtakes" album, visit: https://artsandarchitecture.psu.edu/gallery/psubeforeafter-2018-outtakes.

To view photographs from the past year in the College of Arts and Architecture, visit its recently launched online photo archive, AARC: https://aarc.arts.psu.edu.

Media Contacts: 

Stephanie Swindle Thomas

Work Phone: 
814-865-8113

Public relations, College of Arts and Architecture 

Last Updated April 30, 2018