Updates on Reopening SVA
Click below for info on our plans for 2021-2022, including the vaccine requirement for all students, faculty and staff.
Alumni Scholarships Awards 2021: Pushing Boundaries and Expanding Possibilities

59 SVA Students Are Awarded $40,500 Worth of Scholarships for their Original Projects

February 23, 2021 by Michelle Mackin
Three men are in a church wearing Ethiopian Orthodox priest garments, which are boldly colored with gold accents. One man stands and swings a gold incense burner; the other two hang their heads and bow.

Lisa Durden, still from My Brother: The Ethiopian Orthodox Priest, 2021.

What’s one word that sums up the 2021 Alumni Scholarship Award winners’ feelings about receiving support from the SVA Alumni Society? Gratitude. After an exceptionally challenging year, the 59 students who received $40,500 to fund their thesis or portfolio projects greatly appreciate the monetary relief.


“Thanks to the Alumni Scholarship Award, I was able to push the boundaries of my thesis project without having to worry about money,” says Sanika Phawde (MFA Illustration as Visual Essay), whose thesis project is a graphic novel addressing people’s relationships with food. “I got to cook, control and construct my reference images and source the high-quality materials I needed to produce the best version of my story.”

Orange and red oddly shaped pieces of food lay on a tray. The pieces spell out the phrase "Mommy is a Witch"

Illustration by Sanika Phawde, from her untitled graphic novel.

Established in 1999, the Alumni Scholarship Awards are presented annually to SVA students. “In this unprecedented time, students are still finding ways to make their work,” says Miranda Pierce, associate director of Alumni Affairs and Development, who also spearheads this annual program. “The Alumni Scholarship Awards program always shows the strength of the SVA community—alumni donating to support students looking ahead to entering the job market. But this year, you could feel it even more as the panelists deliberated, well aware of the additional challenges the students were facing.”


“I feel so honored and delighted to receive this award for my project,” says Miki Isayama (BFA Design), who is launching a biannual magazine focused on the traditional Japanese lifestyle, called Wabi Sabi. “Because of this scholarship, I will be able to curate and refine my project further and expand the possibility of my work.”


“Winning this scholarship is everything! ... It’s providing me with the financial support needed to tell the story about an underserved community that would otherwise not ever be told,” says Lisa Durden (MFA Social Documentary Film). Through her thesis documentary, Durden tells the story of her brother, Kesis Amdetsion, a respected priest and rising leader in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. 

A cover of the magazine WABI SABI by Miki Isayama. The cover features a photo of a pink flower plant on a muted purple/pink background.

Miki Isayama, Wabi Sabi cover, 2021.

Not only does the award reward recipients financially, but it also validates the effort that goes into their—often very personal—thesis work. Rose Kang’s (BFA Animation) short film Junk is about a mother and daughter who must address their strained relationship. “It is a great feeling to receive support from SVA and the Alumni Society on a project that is the cumulation of the time I have spent at SVA,” she says.

“There are projects that are a direct result of the pandemic and there are others that could be from any other year,” Pierce says. “All of the projects were in some way affected by the current situation—whether it meant adhering to protocols on a film set, difficulty accessing materials, or masterfully fixing up the old computer you have at home—they all felt the impact and rose to the occasion.”

Illustration by Rose Kang of a small white house sounded by massive hills of junk. The lighting is very gray and dismal.

Rose Kang, still from Junk, 2021.

“I am very thankful to the SVA Alumni Society for this honor and acknowledgment,” says Fin Handel (BFA Animation), whose film, Woe’s Comet, is about a man whose life perspective shifts as a comet hurtles towards his city. “I am continuing to push forward and to convey a film worth viewing; one that provokes wonder, thought and comfort.” 


For the full list of 2021 Alumni Scholarship Award recipients, click here. For more information about the Alumni Society and its scholarships, visit sva.edu/alumnisociety or contact Miranda Pierce at alumnisociety@sva.edu.

People stand apart from each other in a dark, graffitied subway car wearing face masks.

Fin Handel, still from Woe’s Comet, 2021.