Convocation Feature: Samantha Bachalo

June 05, 2023

Samantha Bachalo graduates this week with a Bachelor of Arts in Interactive Arts & Technology with a minor in Contemporary Arts. She completed her IAT degree with a concentration in media arts through which she rediscovered a passion for music and film.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My brain often feels like it’s bursting at the seams with all of the things I want to learn and do. My childhood was a mix of music and instruments, learning new languages, animated films and soundtracks, programming my own video games and animating my own short films. When I stumbled across SIAT as a high school student, I found a place where people like me can not only connect, but can thrive.

SIAT exposed me to a diverse range of topics with a lot of room for customization of experience. My academic journey was full of self-discovery and led me through so many areas. This includes foundations of graphic design and design trends, the basics of filmmaking, motion graphics, fine arts, game design, and so much more.

Upon discovering my enjoyment in the media arts side of SIAT, I decided to switch to a Bachelor of Arts with a concentration in media arts fairly quickly into my time at SFU. I also rediscovered a passion for music and film, which led me to pursue a Contemporary Arts minor around my third year thanks to encouragement from the SIAT advisors.

My favourite experiences would have to be in the fine arts areas of SIAT. Getting formal training in IAT 208 (Drawign as Inquiry) to improve my observational and technical art skills was so valuable to me, since that is how I communicate best.

SIAT isn't a traditional art school—and I’m not much of a traditional artist—so I’m not sure I could have been exposed to the diverse perspectives SIAT offers if I had pursued my interests somewhere else. Additionally, learning from other SIAT disciplines finds its way into your work, and allows you a lot of space for personal expression and creativity in more areas than traditional art.

On the cusp of graduation, I’m feeling more eager than ever to see what I can accomplish with what I’ve learned here.

Why did you choose SIAT for your studies?

I am a creative, curious, hands-on sort of person. I have trouble physically and mentally sitting still when I think of all the things I want to learn and do. Out of high school I was looking for a degree that accurately represented me as a person, a broad skillset that covered a lot of areas, and a program that encouraged a thirst for knowledge. The School of Interactive Arts & Technology gave me the opportunity to explore a large range of fields and put that knowledge into practice. In SIAT, you don't just learn about films and games, you create them.

I was able to dabble in programming and explore my love for arts and music. But more than anything, the students in SIAT felt like kindred souls. I found a program that regularly challenged me to improve, a bright community, and people who have helped me blossom, understand, and better myself.

What was your favourite SIAT course?

There were a number of SIAT courses I liked, but I think my favourite was creating my own directed studies course with a professor I respect and admire deeply.

Because I want to pursue a career in 2D animation, I wanted a deeper dive into that area than the curriculum offered. The advisors have been a huge support in making me aware of the directed studies program and helping me set it up. With the assistance of the wonderful SIAT professor Susan Clements-Vivian as a mentor, I was able to study and practice the Disney principles of animation. This was one of the most enjoyable and impactful courses I've ever taken.

Directed studies offers a one-on-one experience. Susan enabled me to set the pace and explore areas that I was interested in. The lessons were customized to what I wanted help with, and the guidance I gained from working with an incredible professor like Susan has been second to none. It was an experience I will remember for the rest of my life. I’m deeply grateful to her intellect and kindness, and to the advisors for their support in encouraging my passions.

I highly recommend looking into direct studies for students who are interested in delving further into a subject than the standard courses allow.

Do you have a favourite project that you worked on at SIAT?

It's hard to choose a favourite project. I feel one of the most rewarding ones was working on a team to help redesign medical forms in IAT 333 (Interaction Design Methods).

A staff member at a Vancouver Japanese Community Centre called Tonari Gumi expressed a desire for graphic design assistance. English is a second language for a lot of the seniors there. Due to their complex language and design, many of the seniors have trouble understanding and filling out important medical forms, which are mainly used by first responders to assist them in an emergency.

My team spoke closely with these seniors and with paramedics to help redesign the forms. We managed to come up with a design that had less medical jargon and was easier to understand for patients, while still being clear for emergency medical staff. This was paired with a link to an instructional guidance video on how to fill out the form, a video guide creates opportunity for dubbing or subtitles in a different language in the future. There was also discussion with Tonari Gumi of hosting workshops so community members can fill out their medical forms with guidance from the Tonari Gumi staff alongside the instructional video.

This project was an invaluable experience because it was something real and tangible that we were able to do with our SIAT skills to better our community. Getting to work directly with such wonderful people and relearn the value of teamwork made this very special for me.

Portrait of Samantha with the left half illustrated by Samantha.

What was the highlight of your undergraduate career?

I enjoyed my directed studies course, but one thing that I feel isn't discussed enough is the value of using the resources we're offered at SFU. I remember walking into the SIAT advising offices during my first week and having a meltdown in front of Kim. I had no idea what path I was supposed to take to earn a degree, or what a Bachelor’s degree even really meant. But Kim was kind and patient with me. And she, Naomi, and my CA advisor Alex continued to greet me with this same patience and kindness every time I needed support or had questions throughout my years at SFU.

The advisors assisted me in planning my entire degree, answered all of my questions, gave advice, and helped me discover opportunities like directed studies courses that I wouldn't have known about without them. Though the curriculum I've learned has been great, I think the behind-the-scenes learning that advising has given me deserves the most recognition.

What is next on the horizon for you after graduating?

My heart is set on making a path for myself in the animation industry. In order to get there, I’m learning as much as I can academically.

The next phase of my journey starts in September 2023 at Capilano University's 2D Animation & Visual Development program. SIAT made me realize that I'd love to work in storyboarding, and offered me a lot of help to prepare for my diploma. I'm very excited for what I'll discover next!

Any advice for incoming students considering SIAT?

If you’re considering applying or transferring to SIAT, my advice is to really think about what you want from your degree, beyond just getting a job. SIAT is a hefty time commitment and a hands-on, multidisciplinary experience that isn’t for everyone. But if you are willing to put in the work, there’s nothing quite like it.

When I was graduating from high school, I didn't think it would be possible for me to find a degree that allows for a broad range of hands-on, relevant industry fields, but also offer fine arts courses and like-minded peers. When I came across SIAT it felt like my calling.

If the areas of SIAT interest you, join! You have the option of trying them all. It is not going to be a walk in the park, but SIAT seems to attract passionate people who somehow just click with each other. If it appeals to you, you’re probably one of those people.

The best part of this faculty is that it's so customizable. You don’t need to know what you want to do yet. But you can learn a lot about yourself and your interests, and have so many fields to explore while also getting a solid understanding of each one. You’ll learn how you learn best, how to work in teams, and how to communicate effectively in many ways. And if you’re interested in something that wasn't covered as deeply as you wanted, directed studies opportunities allow you to delve into them further based on you and your needs and wants.

SIAT’s resources are fantastic, and the friends are for life!