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‘Your first choice is never your only choice’

Keeping an open mind led Alumna Taylor Ricks to exciting opportunities

Tuesday Sep 02, 2014

Indiana University Northwest Alumna Taylor Ricks had always envisioned a career as a veterinarian. She never dreamed that when she was finally a college graduate, what she’d really be doing is teaching art to kids and painting pin-up girls on motorcycles on TV.

But that is the beauty of what can happen when you keep an open mind and accept the curve balls that are life.

“Your first choice is never your only choice,” said Ricks, who earned a degree in art education in 2012. “Don’t pigeonhole yourself into one career just because you think it is right at the time. You could evolve into a new person, like I did.”

The 25-year-old from Chesterton said an animal allergy got in the way of her original plan of becoming a veterinarian, so she decided to take her mom’s advice and pursue art at IU Northwest.

Discovering her calling

She’s happy she did. Both her parents are teachers, and she comes from a family of artists, so it seemed natural to blend the two together. Ricks’ mother, who works for Chancellor’s Professor David Klamen as an artistic assistant, kept her daughter in professional art lessons since she was seven.

Ricks loves her new job teaching art at Lighthouse Charter School in Gary.

“It’s nice to be at a place where I am making a difference,” she said. “These kids really need a strong teacher . . . A lot of them don’t have people to look up to in their lives and I want to be that person for these kids.”

It’s also a bonus that she gets to show off her work, she laughs.

“I love being able to be creative and expressing my skills,” she said. “I love showing off my skills as an artist. I think that’s why I love teaching because its’ just showing off day after day.”

Broadening horizons

Even though she loves teaching art, she admits she also has a dream of one day working at Pixar’s animation studios. Perhaps the big screen is a bug she picked up while working on a television show recently.

Ricks recently traveled to Ohio to participate in a reality show, #BikerLive on the Discovery Channel. Each episode follows three custom motorcycle builders who are given five weeks and $15,000 to build their dream bike. Ricks had met one of the builders at the restaurant where she had been working and he invited her to join the team to add the final touches to finish their bike.

Following her philosophy to keep an open mind and follow her opportunities, Ricks accepted the offer. With no prior auto or airbrush painting experience, Ricks rose to the challenge and adorned the bike with a pin-up girl on a motorcycle. See the preview.

“I painted it on the bike right then and there. I had two days to do it, probably 10 hours total. They filmed us doing it. A month later they aired it on TV and they did live voting on Twitter. We ended up losing. I was on TV for like two seconds but it was still a cool experience.”

She hopes her brief television stint isn’t her last. As a way of keeping her door open to new opportunities, whatever they may be, she is soon beginning an airbrushing course. Not only will she will be able to teach this new skill to kids in her current career, but perhaps it will also lead to side opportunities like a chance to compete on “Face Off,” a reality television game show in which prosthetic makeup artists compete with each other.

Quality instructors matter

Ricks said that what she appreciated most about her IU Northwest education was the one-on-one critiques from her instructors and the artistic development she got as a result. And, the teachers who supervised her during her student teaching “went above and beyond to make sure I was the best teacher I could be.”

“I loved my teachers,” she said of IU Northwest’s faculty. “My art professors were professionals in the field and they were all successful and they were the best motivators to becoming a great artist myself.”

Ricks plans on furthering her education, possibly with a master’s degree in fine arts or animation.

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