Over four weeks this summer, 200 high school students from around the world took college-level courses on the Pratt Institute Brooklyn campus to develop their creative skills and prepare to turn their passions into higher education pursuits. The annual PreCollege program offers hands-on learning to young artists, designers, architects, writers, filmmakers, and more to study with world-class faculty.

A group of people look at art displayed in a gallery.
The 2022 PreCollege exhibition on the Pratt Institute Brooklyn campus (photo by Haley Sessoms)

The Black Alumni of Pratt (BAP) annually provides full scholarships for PreCollege for Black and Latinx students based in the New York City area. They are selected based on the strength of their portfolios with the scholarships funded by contributions from donors to The Black Alumni of Pratt Endowed Fund. Many BAP Scholars have gone on to attend Pratt or other art and design colleges. This year’s BAP PreCollege Summer Scholars were Ari Merchan Espada, Yaslin Polanco, and Av Sanchez.

While in 2020 and 2021, PreCollege was virtual, this summer PreCollege was back in-person. After an inspiring month of learning at Pratt among like-minded students, the BAP Scholars shared what they learned, how it influenced their interests, and what’s next for their art and education.

Art featuring a set of grey hands making different hand gestures on a grey backdrop.
Art from Ari Merchan Espada’s BAP Scholar portfolio

BAP Scholar Ari Merchan Espada of Port Jervis studied digital illustration, drawing, and painting at PreCollege and particularly enjoyed immersing in the study of art.  

“I don’t think I could pin down a specific moment when I realized my love for art,” they said. “I remember always enjoying drawing, doodling all over the sides of my schoolwork, and being known as ‘the art kid.’ My family always shared things they enjoyed with me, and I would appreciate the artistic work that was put into it: the puppetry and creature design from my mom’s favorite old fantasy movies, the pixel art and storytelling in the games my sister played, and the color schemes and patterns of the quilts my great grandma made.”

PreCollege was an opportunity to meet new people from across the country and the world and discover what they had in common, especially relating to these artistic passions. 

“Being at PreCollege definitely taught me I have a lot to work on, but it also showed me things to appreciate about my work and to look at what others see in it, in a way I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise,” Espada said. “I learned to be a little less hard on myself in regards to judging my own work. I also gained some good skills for college in getting a preview of what that’s like.”

A painting of a girl sitting inside a home with a window behind her with faceless crowds walking by.
Art created by Ari Espada during the PreCollege program

Espada is now preparing for college applications by working on a portfolio and is looking forward to making art part of a career. 

“It would be my dream to have art as my profession, and that’s really what I’m trying to work towards,” they said. “I would love to start my own animation studio one day. I know the industry can be tough, but I see so much potential in it that I feel most people aren’t taking advantage of. I want to create something beautiful that will really stand out. Creating art is just part of who I am, and I think that will follow me in whatever I end up doing.”

Drawing of a set of notebooks, a ball and a pencil holder with pencils in grey.
Art from Yaslin Polanco’s BAP Scholar portfolio

BAP Scholar Yaslin Polanco of Brooklyn studied sculpture, drawing, and painting at PreCollege. During the pandemic, she spent more time painting, leading her to start a small painting business to contribute to her family’s needs.

“My parents are my inspiration because for me they are among the hardest working and strongest people there are,” she said. “Thanks to them, I was able to come to the US to have the opportunities that they never had in our native country.”

For Polanco, PreCollege was a chance to try out new approaches to art. “That’s why one of the courses I chose was sculpture,” she said. “I had never done anything related to sculpture since I usually do drawings or paintings. When our teacher taught us various techniques with wood or making body parts with plaster, I realized that I want to continue making sculptures and also keep learning in the future.”

A multicolored painting of a person wearing a face mask.
Art created by Yaslin Polanco during the PreCollege program

She enjoyed exploring different artistic media and learning from the other students, each with their own perspectives and styles. 

“One of my PreCollege courses was drawing and painting,” Polanco said. “At first, I did not understand the painting techniques that my teacher explained and I felt that I was not going to be as good as my classmates. After my teacher gave me a critique and examples, I began to add more color and make the shapes simpler. I practiced day and night and at the end of it all, I felt like I wanted to use those techniques for my future projects. We must always learn different things or new techniques and never get stuck with a single style or a specific material.”

A drawing of a person sitting in a chair from the ground perspective. The person has lamp by their side.
Art from Av Sanchez’s BAP Scholar portfolio

BAP Scholar Av Sanchez of Queens studied industrial design and illustration at PreCollege. Going into the program, Sanchez was especially interested in getting an experience with college life. 

“It was incredible spending my summer on Pratt’s Brooklyn campus with other immensely talented art and design students,” they said. “I loved having the opportunity to interact with students from all over the globe. There’s great value in hearing diverse perspectives and exchanging ideas with others.”

While they arrived at PreCollege with some experience with illustration, industrial design was an opportunity to try something new, increase their skills and knowledge, and consider other creative career possibilities. 

“I learned about new techniques and mediums that could strengthen the themes I strive to convey in my works,” Sanchez said. “For example, splatter paint art is a great way to express our emotions. The rigorous college courses taught me how to receive assignments and execute them in a short period. My professors also taught me that if you want something bad enough, you’ll go out and fight for it. This is a motto I’ll live by.”

A drawing in blue, yellow and white of a the 85 St subway station from inside a crowded subway car.
Art created by Av Sanchez during the PreCollege program

Sanchez is now planning to attend the Pratt Young Scholars program. They are looking forward to continuing to be inspired by the cultural environment of New York City and discovering how they can channel that energy into their work.

“I am extremely appreciative of what The Black Alumni of Pratt has done for me,” Sanchez said. “They have provided me with the opportunity to advance my education and become a member of such a diverse community. I am honored to be a part of the BAP legacy. Without BAP’s guidance and scholarships, I don’t think I would’ve understood I wanted to pursue an art education. Most importantly, I learned about the value of helping those in need. I want to be a voice for and support students of African and Latinx origins. I intend to remain a member of the BAP community for many years to come.”