UArts Pre-College Alumni: Jovan Ellis

Summer Institute, '08

Pre-College Summer Institute, '08
Art, Media + Design

Pre-College Saturday School, '08 & '09
Game Design; Comic Character Design

Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Champlain College

BS, Champlain College, ’13 (Game Design)
MS, Champlain College, Fall ’17 (Executive Leadership)
MFA, Champlain College, Spring ’18 (Emergent Media)

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
Current living in: Burlington, VT


“My Pre-College experience helped me develop the core skills to pursue my interests and make smart choices about my education.”


Jovan has always been interested in the connection between storytelling, visual imagery, and games. As an only child inventing stories and making up games was a way to visualize a world far from his South Philly neighborhood where people “never really thought about going anywhere else.” His mother had dreamed of going to college and training to become a veterinarian, but found herself working in a mattress factory, alongside her father and grandfather. She wanted Jovan to have the opportunity to follow his passions and encouraged him to pursue his dreams, no matter how “crazy” they seemed to anyone else. As an adult, having earned a BS in Game Design, and now completing an MFA in Emergent Media, Jovan believes that games and new media can be applied more broadly to business, education, and technology. He is particularly interested in the concept of game design as a cultural preservation tool, a way to create methodologies to interest young people in learning about, and preserving, the history, traditions, and languages of their heritage, families, and communities. Jovan says that his Summer Institute and Saturday School experiences helped him understand the enormous possibilities for employing storytelling, interactive media, and illustration and gave him the core skills—and the confidence in his decision—to seek a degree in game design. (When he graduated from high school in 2009 UArts did not offer a major in game design, which has since been implemented.)

Pre-College boosted his interest, as well, in connecting with lots of different people around the arts and education. One of the best parts of Summer Institute was meeting peers from other places and gaining a “more global perspective.” That experience and his racial/ethnic background (he is African American and Puerto Rican), played a large role in the choices he made at Champlain College in Vermont, where served as a student ambassador, and now in his role at Assistant Director of Admissions at the College, where he is completing not only the MFA in Emergent Media, but a Masters in Executive Leadership, as well. It has been exciting, he says, to learn about his own leadership style and about the values surrounding leadership.


“I had access not only to inspiring teachers, but to the tools and materials to explore and create.”


A counselor at CHAD (Charter High School for Architecture and Design) suggested that Jovan participate in “The Big Pitch” challenge, sponsored by a local advertising agency. The prize was a scholarship to Summer Institute. Jovan’s team won with a creative Public Service Announcement about teen voting. It was a life-changing experience, connecting with other students from around the country, and having access to art-making instruction, tools, and techniques at Summer Institute. Jovan subsequently enrolled in a full year of Saturday School programs with the support of a full scholarship. He discovered his passion for game design, realized a college education was within reach, and became determined to pursue a career that could link his diverse interests and talents.


“It’s important to encourage young people to embrace new opportunities.”


As Champlain College’s recruiter in the Northeastern region of the country, Jovan spends 10-20 days a year back in Philadelphia. One of his most important messages to the high school students he meets with: “jump at opportunities, things can happen very fast. Don’t miss out.” “The Big Pitch”/ Summer Institute experience serve as his example. Jovan says he reflects a great deal on the issues of “access” to resources and education and is grateful for the great opportunity to attend the Pre-College program.