Kelly Wong entered Cal Poly Pomona as an engineering technology major, but a lifelong love affair with art will see her graduate with a BFA in visual communication design and double-minors in art history and studio arts at the top of her class as the valedictorian and 2021 McPhee Scholar for the College of Environmental Design.
Named after the founding president of Cal Poly Pomona and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, the award honors a current graduating senior who exhibits excellence in their academic endeavors. Wong finishes her academic career with a 3.95 GPA.
Wong’s initial foray into art began with drawing using traditional media before transitioning to digital art and graphics during high school.
“I have always enjoyed making art throughout my life,” she said.
There was no looking back for Wong after making the switch to the visual communication design. Crafting a rigorous academic program centering on her major, she committed to her home department’s minor programs in art history and studio arts in the pursuit of mastering the rich complexities of visual language and culture.
“I enjoyed learning about art history in the few classes I had taken for my VCD degree requirements, and I thought that taking my knowledge further with the Art History minor would be valuable to me as a visual artist due to the impact of history on the present and future,” she said.
“The Studio Arts minor was an additional creative outlet for me as I worked on design-related projects. While specializing in painting has certainly honed some of my technical skills, I have also found that this form of self-expression has given me the opportunity to do some self-reflection about who I am as an artist and as a human being,” Wong continued. “Vulnerability has never been easy for me, but I think I’ve been able to find a voice— however quiet— that allows me to share myself through my paintings, which is important to me because connecting and communicating with others is everything.”
Wong credits finding her painting style and “voice” to lecturer Ann Phong – a prolific artist whose work is renowned for her depiction of the Vietnamese-American immigrant experience and the fragility of nature imperiled by ecological stress.
Phong recalled Wong taking her painting class (VCD 3362) in Fall 2020 and returning the following semester for another class to further develop her artistic style.
“Her quiet personality is expressed excellently through her soft and smooth brush strokes,” Phong said. “Her paintings often carry a close-up subject/simple composition but are very rich in nuanced subtlety.”
Wong’s artistic strengths were in full display at this year’s poly-kroma, the Department of Art’s annual celebration of fine arts and visual communication design. Spanning nearly two weeks, the program includes the 2d3d+ Annual Student Competition and the Industry Portfolio Showcase that connects the graduating class with industry professionals.
“Ms. Wong seamlessly navigates the bridge between visual communication and studio art, creating an impressive body of work that shows technical prowess and artistic excellence,” said department chair Associate Professor Anthony Acock. “It is unsurprising that she is the McPhee scholar this year. In addition to her stellar GPA, she has three pieces accepted into the juried exhibition 2d3d+, and has been a consistent, positive presence in Building 13. The department looks forward to watching where she lands.”
Wong looks back at her academic journey with pride – not because of her near-perfect GPA but the classmates and faculty who have enlivened her studies.
“My proudest accomplishment at Cal Poly Pomona is forming great relationships with my peers and professors, especially those within the VCD program,” she said. “My college career path has not been linear, but the past few years introduced me to some of the most wonderful people I know, and their support and kindness has made a lasting impact on me. I’m grateful to have been able to take this journey with them.”
See Wong’s portfolio at https://kellywongart.wordpress.com.