Ellie Zahorik's Journey from Pre-College Summer Academy to BFA candidate

Callie Coccia, Pre-College Coordinator and PAFA Alum (PAFA-Penn BFA ’21), sat down with Ellie Zahorik, a first year BFA student at PAFA, to talk about Ellie’s high school experience at Summer Academy in 2021 and how it impacted her path to art school. 

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Callie: What did you take away from your experience at Summer Academy?

Ellie: I learned a lot, in that short period of time, and I’ve learned even more since I’ve been a [BFA] student. Definitely, I learned how an art school works, even though PAFA is a little different than any other school.  I didn’t go to an arts high school. I’ve learned that a lot of students here did, [and] I just went to a regular, public school. So I really didn’t know how anything in this world worked, and the summer program really gave me a great footing to figure that out. 

What was your experience with the teachers? Did you feel like you connected with them? 

There were definitely some that stood out. Roger Chavez wrote me a recommendation letter for PAFA when I was a senior, so we kept in touch. I really liked him, and the other teachers I was with.  The Teaching Assistant, Jake Weiss, we were close, and I actually saw him at the Print Sale for the first time after Summer Academy this year. 

What were some of your favorite experiences outside of the classroom? 

Just, being in the city, honestly. It really solidified my opinions on what I wanted to do beyond high school. I knew I wanted to go to an arts college, and I wanted to be in a city, and after the program, I just knew I wanted to go to PAFA. During COVID, it was just such a great experience to be in a new environment, you know, new patterns... I think just being out of my house and hometown during that period was just great. 

What was your favorite part of the program? 

My favorite part was… is it stupid to say I loved all of it?

I just loved being surrounded by all of [the art] for the first time and creating art with other art students who were just as passionate as I was. The environment itself was just great. 

How did Summer Academy differ from other art classes or art making experiences you did before college? 

I didn’t actually do many. There was this one woman [with] this big farm, and we would go outside and set up our easels. There wasn’t really any sort of instruction, or structure, it was just kind of something to do, and you paint.

Having the structure of PAFA and working with real art professors and kids who also genuinely want to go to art school, that made a big difference. 

How did Summer Academy prepare you to apply for and later attend art school? 

Like I said previously, I knew I wanted to go to an art school, not just a school with an art program, and once I found PAFA and realized how much I liked Philadelphia and everything about PAFA. When I was applying to other schools, I didn’t want to go to any of them. Roger Chavez wrote me a recommendation, and that definitely helped. Having [Summer Academy] on my resume, all of those things pushed me to enrolling as a student. 

Do you use what you learned in Summer Academy in art school and your art more broadly? How so? 

I’ve learned so much in this first semester, that what I learned in [Summer Academy] is sort of swept into that. We made a self-portrait, a bust, of ourselves [in Summer Academy], and now we’re doing a bust of a model [in BFA class]. No one else, at least of my friends, had done that before, even the sculptors. And so I had some taste of how [PAFA’s professors] taught, and how to make this head. That definitely helped. 

What do you see yourself doing in the future? 

A far away goal would be to be completely financially stable on my art alone- it’s the dream for most artists.

PAFA gives me that inspiration, you know, that hope. That’s really the main reason why I chose to go to PAFA opposed to the other art schools I got into. Because they really wanted to support you and your goals as an artist… PAFA really cares.

Ellie's Art from Summer Academy
Ellie's Art from Summer Academy
Self-portrait, work in progress
From Ellie's Application For Pre-College Summer Academy 2021
Oil on canvas, 24”x18”
Self portrait
Work in Progress
Portrait of prostitute from photo
From Ellie's Application For Pre-College Summer Academy 2021
Oil on canvas, 14”x19’’
Portrait of a prostitute
Photo shot by Bruce Gilden
Portrait of young woman
From Ellie's Application For Pre-College Summer Academy 2021
Oil on canvas
Portrait of Brynne Rosetta
Portrait of dad in Renaissance costume
From Ellie's Application For Pre-College Summer Academy 2021
Oil on canvas
Portrait of Ellie's father in Renaissance costume
self-portrait in 1920s costume
From Ellie's Application For Pre-College Summer Academy 2021
Oil on canvas
Self-portrait in 1920s costume

About PAFA

Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is America's first school and museum of fine arts. A recipient of the National Medal of Arts, PAFA offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the fine arts, innovative exhibitions of historic and contemporary American art, and a world-class collection of American art. PAFA’s esteemed alumni include Mary Cassatt, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Thomas Eakins, William Glackens, Barkley L. Hendricks, Violet Oakley, Louis Kahn, David Lynch, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.