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IUN’s Class of 2024: Finding confidence for your future

Originally unsure if college was right for her, fine arts graduate Kaitlin Nichols excels at IU Northwest

May 2, 2024

A woman smiles while painting.

Most people ask college-bound students what their goals are after college.

After all, college is a step toward accomplishing something better for yourself, whether that be career goals, personal or both.

But for Kaitlin Nichols, what happened after college wasn’t on her mind. Her goal, simply, was to graduate.

“My goal of college was, honestly — and people sometimes give me the look when I say this — but I just wanted to graduate,” Nichols said. “I wanted to graduate to fulfill and accomplish something that I wasn’t sure if I would ever accomplish because of my learning disabilities.”

When Nichols went to South Suburban College after graduating high school in 2015, she struggled, but she pushed through the struggle before leaving. Having to take a break from school, her motivation fell.

The Calumet City, Illinois, native found Indiana University Northwest in 2019. There, she saw a path to success.

“I fell in love with the fact that it was a really unique environment with all of these areas and avenues of art,” Nichols said. “I was excited that I got my studio, I got an area to work in, I got teachers from different fields that are very well established and help you get in the art community.”

Art is in Nichols’ blood. Her grandfather was an art illustrator and her father and brother were both artists. While Nichols struggled in regular school subjects, art always came naturally to her.

“It’s euphoric, definitely,” Nichols said. “You just start moving where it becomes a natural grace of movement and you don’t even realize you’re doing it. It’s just a calming feeling when I get into the groove of my work.”

Nichols’ confidence excelled while at IU Northwest, and the soon-to-be fine arts graduate took full advantage of what the campus offered.

In 2020, Nichols talked with her mother, Dianne Nichols, who will also graduate from IU Northwest this spring with a degree in general studies. The two talked about Nichols’ plans post-graduation. College doesn’t last forever, and this time Nichols wanted to make sure she was setting herself up for future success.

But Nichols needed a guide. She approached School of the Arts Assistant Professor Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford and asked him to be her mentor. Hulsebos-Spofford invited Nichols to join his Chicago-based arts collective, Floating Museum, over the summer as an intern.

Since then, Nichols has worked with Floating Museum, which directed this year’s Chicago Architecture Biennial (CAB 5). She’s installed inflatable sculptures, worked as a docent and more. She saw all the work that goes into putting on a city-wide art show and began envisioning an art career for herself.

As a work-study student for the School of the Arts Performing Arts Department, Nichols began working with Timothy O’Donnell and her artistic abilities improved. She’s done things she never thought she could from set design, carpentry, spotlight, soundboard, welding and more.

“IU Northwest has opened many opportunities to me,” Nichols said. “I was able to work with Jeremiah, assisting with the installation work and sculpting; work with Tim in the theatre department being able to build set design, as well, as working with the art gallery and learning different avenues of art forms.”

Looking toward the future, Nichols is thinking about getting into a union of stagehands — where she’d assist with events around Chicago — moving into a more full-time role with Hulsebos-Spofford and finding other ways to establish herself in the Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana art community.

It’s funny what a few years can do.

After coming to IU Northwest unsure if college would ever be right for her, Nichols is just weeks away from calling herself a college graduate. It may have taken longer than she thought, but consider her goal complete.

“It’s nerve-wracking but the fact that I get to say, ‘I’m going to graduate,’ is like a feeling of relief and excitement,” Nichols said.

Now, she has a new goal — to turn her art into a career. This time, she doesn’t lack the confidence to do just that.

Read more about IUN’s Class of 2024

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