Not even Katrina could deter student from reaching her goal

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Jamie Alonzo of Mandeville, shown with herself-portrait sculpture "Baby Girl," thought her hopes of being accepted into a Master of Fine Arts graduate program had been swept away when Hurricane Katrina floodwaters destroyed her portfolio of artwork. With encouragement from Visual Arts department head Dennis Sipiorski, Jamiere created her portfolio and was offered a graduate teaching assistantship at theUniversity of Tennessee-Knoxville.


Jamie Alonzo, Visual Arts major

Dennis Sipiorski, Department Head, Department of Visual Arts



When Hurricane Katrina poured through Southeast Louisiana last year, Jamie Alonzo’s life’s work literally washed away as the waters filled her Mandeville apartment.

A senior in art specializing in ceramics, Alonzo’s dreams of going to graduate school seemed to have vanished with the receding waters. To get into a post-graduate program, she would need a body of work illustrating her talents.

Department head and professor of Visual Arts Dennis Sipiorski teaches a ceramics class in Southeastern's ceramics studio. 

“I lost everything all my pieces and projects, my supplies, drawings, everything,” she recalled.

In stepped professor Dennis Sipiorski, head of the Department of Visual Arts, who was determined to keep her focused on her goal.

“He pushed me and kept me on my toes so that I didn’t fall apart,” the Gretna native said. “He’s my mentor and a big reason for my success.”

That success includes receiving a three-year graduate assistantship at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville where she will be teaching undergraduate courses while working on her MFA degree.

With Siporski’s encouragement, Alonzo began to develop a new body of work during the fall semester, working from drawings and sketches she executed during her evacuation. Her ceramics work is autobiographical, recalling people and events from her childhood. It includes titles such as “Uncle Buddy’s in Town,” “Mama Lynn” (her grandmother), “Bucky,” and her self-portrait “Baby Girl.” She even included a sculpture of her first car, “the one that would only start with a screwdriver to ignite the engine.”

Dennis Sipiorski, head of the Department of Visual Arts, and Jamie Alonzo at her art showing
Jamie Alonzo and her mentor, Visual Arts professor and department head Dennis Sipiorski, with a display of Jamie's artwork in Southeastern's Contemporary Art Gallery.

“I love the clay and the whole process of making something from scratch,” said Alonzo who originally came to Southeastern to major in education. “It’s a long, slow, patient process. I now see this as my career.”

Alonzo completed eight pieces, sending 20 images to her intended graduate school, which quickly accepted her application and offered the teaching assistantship.

“She’s my star,” Sipiorski said, proudly roaming through her pieces on display in Southeastern’s Contemporary Art Center. “She’s exactly the kind of student we look for.”


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