The first week that CSU senior Shreenal Patel lived in the United States, she had an interview for a job at the local King Soopers. Even though she has spoken english since she was a child, she was still nervous. Nearly three years later she had another important interview in English, this time for her U.S. citizenship.
Patel grew up in a small town in East India and first came to Fort Collins in 2010 to visit her aunt. A year later, she decided to come back to Fort Collins to study. “My grandfather always wanted one of us kids to go study in a different culture… because I am the oldest when it came time for me to study it was like, okay, you’re up,” Patel says.
At first things weren’t easy. Though Patel could speak and write in English well, she found that Americans spoke quickly, and often used slang terms that were difficult to understand. On the job at King Soopers, she experience customers who could be brisk and rude. Add that to homesickness, living in a foreign country, and the stress of starting college, and the first few months of Patel’s time in America were stressful.
When she went home to India for winter break that first year, she told her parents she did not want to come back. Her father encouraged her to go back for one more semester and see if it got any better, and, at least she would know she gave it a whole year. “He told me to try to be more open to new things and new people, so when I came back I tried that and hoped it would work,” Patel says, “I think it did work.”
In the beginning, she took classes at Front Range Community College while she adjusted to living in America and sought to complete some general education credits. That part of the experience, at least, was great. “I love Front Range, I still love Front Range. All of the professors were so nice and helpful to me.”
It was at that point one of Patel’s relatives suggested she try taking a design class. She’d always loved design and decoration — she is known among her family for drawing intricate henna designs on her mother’s hands and making hand-made cards for every birthday — so she signed up for an Intro to Graphic Design class to see what it was like. She found she loved the class, and after she transferred to CSU in the fall of 2015, she pursued an art degree with a concentration in graphic design and a minor in English. “When I started, I didn’t know if I was any good at it, but at least I really liked it,” Patel says remembering her first few graphic design classes.
During the summer of 2017, Patel took a graphic design class with professor John Gravdahl, who crafted the class around students marketing their designs to an actual client. Each of the students in the class, more than 20, were tasked with creating a new logo for the CSU branch of the Reinvention Collaborative which they would present to the organization at the end of the course. Patel was exited by the challenge of creating designs for an actual client, and saw it as a good opportunity to explore a career in graphic design.
2017 was also the year Patel started the process of becoming a U.S. citizen. The process often involves an eight-or-nine month long application procedure, and by summer 2017 Patel was ready to give her oral interview, one of the last steps in the citizenship process. Preparation for the interview included studying a list of 100 possible questions that could be asked, knowing that the interviewers would pick about 10 questions at random for the actual interview. Just like the interview at King Soopers her first week in Colorado, Patel felt nervous to give an interview in English.
She passed with flying colors and was awarded her citizenship in the United States. The only problem was that her acceptance ceremony was set for June 9, the same day as the presentations to the Reinvention Collaborative for her graphic design class. She was determined to make both events, though one was in Fort Collins and the other in Denver, and asked Gravdahl if she could present her designs first before her citizenship award ceremony. She got to present first and make it to her ceremony that afternoon, but figured the judges would forget her work by the time the event was over. “Looking around the room, you see everyone’s designs and they’re all so good. I definitely didn’t think I would win, but it was fun to be able to participate,” Patel says of the experience.
About a month later, Patel got an email from the Reinvention Collaborative congratulating her as they had chosen her logo as the winner. What’s more, they hired her as a student designer to craft their letterhead, business cards, and web-page design. Now looking toward her graduation in May 2018, she is excited about taking that step in the direction of a graphic design career. As a new citizen of the United States, she is excited to find more graphic design work in both Colorado and beyond. “I didn’t think that the judges would remember my design by the time the event was over, let alone that I would win,” she says remembering the day, “but I guess June 9, 2017 turned out to be a pretty big day for me.”