When Amy Zhang ’19 received the news of her acceptance to the College of William and Mary in December 2014, she was overjoyed and relieved. After meeting with a senior interviewer, she was firm in her plan to pursue a pre-med track while majoring in studio art. After a few influential classes and four years with ROCKET Magazine, she has sculpted a slightly different path.
“I always knew I wanted to take art classes in college, but I didn’t know if I’d be able to major in it,” Zhang said. “My family is very STEM-based, and the idea of something outside of STEM wasn’t really in the picture. But, they’re very supportive, and they ended up being OK with it and supporting me, even if it’s something they truly do not understand.”
Once she arrived on campus, she filled her schedule with credits in chemistry and psychology, still intending to follow the pre-med track. On a whim, she decided to enroll in Artists and Their Writings to fulfill her COLL 100 requirement. She credits this class, in addition to art and art history professor Elizabeth Mead, with inspiring her to major in studio art with a concentration in sculpture.
“So the class had two professors, and it was supposed to cover two subjects,” Zhang said. “Ultimately, it was mostly studio time doing sculpture. I loved the studio professor — I really connected with her. I had been taking pre-med classes all year, and I was doing poorly. I loved that class so much that it brought me a lot of hope and joy when I was doing really badly. At the end of the class, [Mead] asked me if I was going to be an art major and told me that I should be, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I should.’”
Her path has changed in more ways than one. After seeing flyers for ROCKET during her spring semester freshman year, she was worried she had missed the deadline to apply. She was also convinced that ROCKET would merely be an extracurricular to pursue in her free time. She did not anticipate that it would become a large part of her life.
“At the time, ROCKET was way smaller, maybe like 30 people, and our staff is now around 68 people,” Zhang said. “I started in the style team, and [my hall mate Emmel El-Fiky ‘19] started in features, the editorial part. From there, I did whatever was necessary every shoot. I styled the outfits and became very close with the other style team members Bronwyn Roseli [’19], Kyle Lopez [’17] and Bella Arias [’18]. I think it’s Bella that made me love ROCKET so much.”
According to Zhang, ROCKET has continued to change since her freshman year. The staff has doubled in size, the magazine’s content has shifted focus to include political messages and the very materials used to produce the magazine have changed. Zhang said that Arias, who served as the last editor-in-chief, helped to change the social environment of ROCKET and made it a more welcoming place.
By the end of her first semester on staff, Roseli and Zhang had been promoted to co-editors of ROCKET’s style team. She said she had learned early on that she could get out of ROCKET what she put in and decided to give it her all.
“That year, Bella, me, Bronwyn and Kyle came up with the idea to do Astral, the fashion show,” Zhang said. “That was extremely exciting, crazy and nerve-wracking, but at the end when it happened, it was worth it.”
“That year, Bella, me, Bronwyn and Kyle came up with the idea to do Astral, the fashion show,” Zhang said. “That was extremely exciting, crazy and nerve-wracking, but at the end when it happened, it was worth it. I think it’s one of the best events on campus and it’s really cool that we came up with it. It’s largely due to us being in ROCKET and having that creative community around us and us having those connections with [Students of Hip-Hop Legacy].”
Soon after, Zhang became creative director, working closely with Arias during her tenure as editor-in-chief. They worked with the rest of the staff to change the size and the paper weight of the magazine, redesign the website and rebrand ROCKET as a whole. Since April 2018, Zhang has followed in Arias’ footsteps and served as ROCKET’s editor-in-chief.
“I think being editor-in-chief means everything to me,” Zhang said. “On the other hand, I’ve been so involved in ROCKET for so long that I kind of feel like I’m doing the same things. The title has changed for me, but I’m still in the same role, although now I am taking on other responsibilities like managerial things. … It means everything to me because the organization has really changed my life and impacted the way I think of my college experience.”
When she’s not preparing for a photo shoot, helping plan a fashion show or overseeing the production of the semester’s magazine, Zhang spends her time working as an intern at the Muscarelle Museum of Art. There, she primarily helps with social media and event planning and said that one of her favorite events was the February 2018 “Divine Evening with Rembrandt.”
“At the Muscarelle you work a lot of the events and that is what I have loved the most,” Zhang said. “It is a very interesting crowd that comes, the wealthy elite of Williamsburg or the people in Williamsburg who know people. The surprising thing is that people would fly in from other places just to see the works up at the museum. Our previous curator was very well-connected within the Renaissance art world, and I loved the events.”
While she dove head-first into the art world after her first few semesters, Zhang has also tried to take as many different classes as possible to get the most out of her liberal arts education. Thus far she’s taken classes in sociology, theater, film and media studies, business, English, chemistry and psychology in addition to the requirements for her major. She said that not all of those classes have been the right fit for her, but she is proud to have dabbled in so many departments. Her favorite class, however, is in her home department.
“One of the best classes I’ve ever taken here is a photography class with [art and art history professor] Eliot Dudik,” Zhang said. “I took it as a spur of the moment kind of thing. For ROCKET, I never do the photography, but I work extremely closely with the photographers, and I wanted to see what it’s like behind the lens, even if that sounds cliché. It just so happened to have a spot open, and I decided to take it. I loved it. He’s one of the best professors at the university because he cares so much about the students and their work.”
As she prepares for graduation in May, Zhang has decided not to pursue further education but to try and enter the workforce as soon as possible. Down the road, she dreams of working as a creative at Airbnb or as a fashion director at Glossier or Man Repeller. For now, she’s applying to jobs that focus on user experience design.
Reflecting on who she was four years ago, Zhang said that ROCKET has given her confidence in herself. After believing the publication wouldn’t have much of an influence on her life and then becoming editor-in-chief, she said she has found friends that support and encourage her. She has also been recognized by the Ladies of Alpha for her leadership on campus.
“I have changed immensely,” Zhang said. “When I joined ROCKET, I had low expectations for my place in the organization. … Because I became more and more involved and enthusiastic, I became more confident as well. I spoke up, pitched ideas and stood up for the creative ideas I was coming up with. I became more involved, more opinionated, a louder person and very confident in myself.”