In the two semesters since he changed his major to art, Scott Whitley has captured a Best in Show award and advanced to the final stage of a national graphic design competition.
Needless to say, he’s feeling pretty happy about his decision.
“When I changed my major, I got this tingly, excited feeling in my stomach,” Whitley said. “It’s good to know I wasn’t just hungry or something.”
In October, Whitley won the top prize in Polk State’s student art exhibition for a pair of photographs depicting U.S. Air Force jets. Just a month later, he has been named one of five finalists in the Xbox Live and Mobil 1 and “Forza Horizon 2” Livery Design Contest. Open to anyone in the U.S. with an Xbox, the contest involved designing a paint job for a racecar using the game console. A panel of judges, including marketing representatives from Microsoft and Mobil, selected the finalists.
Anyone with an Xbox may vote in the contest. Voting ends Nov. 30.
“It’s definitely been a reaffirming of my decision to study art,” Whitley said of his recent successes, which also include a Purchase award in the student exhibition. “For a long time, I kind of covered up my interest in art, but a lot of things have gone right since I decided that’s what I really want to do.”
Whitley first enrolled at Polk in the mid-1990s, but that try at college would prove short-lived.
“Like a lot of 19-year-old boys, I was more interested in the beach and chasing girls than going to class,” he said.
He dropped out, joined the Air Force, served four years, and then worked as a firefighter in Iraq, Africa and Thailand before coming home to Polk County. He passed the next several years working a variety of jobs, including as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) in an assisted care facility.
A year ago, he returned to Polk State, intending to study a Health Sciences field to build on his experience as a CNA.
“I felt like I could be good at something in the medical field, and that I could do it for years and years,” he said, adding that he’d loved art all his life but never considered pursuing it.
Last spring, seeking only to boost his GPA and to have a little fun, Whitley signed up for Design I with Professor Holly Scoggins. It was just the first in a series of decisions that would change his life.
“One day she asked me if I was an art major. When I said ‘no,’ she said, ‘you should be,’” Whitley said.
“But as I thought about that, I felt this sense of relief. Art was always something I wanted to do.”
This semester, Whitley has thrown himself full force into his art studies, taking classes in drawing, painting, art appreciation and photography. The latter class has been particularly inspiring, Whitley said, as he’s received even more encouragement from Professor David Woods.
“This is my first time doing photography,” Whitley said. “It’s always been something I thought I would like, but (Woods) has really pushed me along.”
Even outside of class, Whitley now spends most his time creating art of some form — whether it’s with his finger on the shutter or his thumbs on his Xbox controller.
He will graduate next year and has decided to continue his studies at a university while also carving out a niche in the local art scene. Maybe there will be booths at art shows, maybe there will be museum exhibits. He’s not sure what the future will hold, but he is sure that his decision to return to Polk — well, that may just be the best decision he’s ever made.
“I’m really thankful for this experience at Polk State. It’s everything I could have expected from a big university,” he said. “If I could, I would stay here the whole four years.”
In addition to Visual Arts, Polk State Fine Arts includes Music and Theatre, all of which enjoy outstanding statewide reputations.