Winter Commencement 2023: Valerie Ray, College of Visual and Performing Arts

There’s a fairly distinct line that runs from Valerie Ray’s earliest years right up to December 2023, as she’s about to graduate from Radford University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, with a concentration in graphic design and a minor in information systems.

“My parents told me I was drawing since I could hold a crayon,” said Ray, a senior from Roanoke, Virginia. “And I was at a computer as soon as I could sit there by myself and not fall over.”

Valerie Ray '23

Ray’s twin fascinations with art and technology stayed strong as she honed her drawing skills and grew more and more familiar with computers.

In her early teens, the two fields converged when she was given an electronic tablet.

“You could plug it into the computer, and you had your pen, and you could draw onscreen,” she recalled. “And it came with a trial version of Photoshop, and it just blew me away how flexible everything was and how open-ended technology made art.

“I took it and ran with it, I guess,” Ray concluded.

After high school, she attended Virginia Western Community College, building her skills in coding and web design and earning a certificate in information technology. During that time, she also began working as a computer technician at a Roanoke repair shop.

When Ray started at Radford in 2020, her focus shifted toward her more creative interests in the College of Visual and Performing Arts. 

“Graphic design is everywhere,” she noted. “Before I jumped into this curriculum, I wasn’t even aware of how prevalent it was, but it’s literally all over the place. That was really eye-opening, honestly.”

Ray learned more about that field and honed her craft, citing two of her professors in particular – Ken Smith and John O’Connor – as having provided formative influences on her student projects.

“They definitely shaped my time at Radford the most. They really pushed everybody to think outside of the box and really drove us to create unique designs,” she said. “The market is pretty flooded now with a lot of things that look very similar, so they tried to push us away from that.”

Some of her recent work bears that out: She’s won seven student graphic design awards, three for poster design within Radford’s theatre department, and created the identity redesign for the university’s Center for Social and Cultural Research.

In March, Ray attended the Western Virginia Advertising Awards, which recognizes excellence across all media platforms in the field, and she took home four “Addy” prizes, including Student Judges Choice in the category of Sales Promotion Packaging, for which she created a beverage carton of her own design, as well as two Gold and one Silver award for other marketing projects.

“I’ve won a couple of competitions before, but this was definitely like the largest scale, I guess, the biggest recognition I’ve had,” she said. “It’s hard to believe because there was some really amazing work at the Addys, and to be included on the screen with some huge names in local design … it was pretty surprising to me.

“I still have a lot that I can improve on … but I definitely think that those recognitions have helped motivate me. If I ever hit a snag in design, I persevered before, so now I know I can do it again.”

Over the summer, she undertook an internship with Delta Dental, which she called “a really huge learning experience for me” because it led to her collaborating with a marketing team, taking part in an office design project, and engaging in a working collaboration with professionals for a few months.

As she prepares to leave academia for now and considers employment options, the dual enthusiasms that brought her to this point have only grown stronger.

“I think just about every advancement in technology opens more opportunity for creatives,” Ray said.” You can give creative people different tools, and they might use it in a way nobody thought of.”


Dec 4, 2023
Neil Harvey