International student receives U.S. citizenship and graphic design award on same day

Shreenal PatelStory by Jane Thompson

The first week that CSU senior Shreenal Patel lived in the United States, she had an interview for a job at the local King Soopers. Even though she has spoken English since she was a child, she was still nervous. Nearly three years later she had another important interview in English, this time for her U.S. citizenship.

Patel grew up in a small town in East India and first came to Fort Collins in 2010 to visit her aunt. A year later, she decided to come back to Fort Collins to study. “My grandfather always wanted one of us kids to go study in a different culture… because I am the oldest when it came time for me to study it was like, okay, you’re up,” Patel says.

At first things weren’t easy. Though Patel could speak and write in English well, she found that Americans spoke quickly, and often used slang terms that were difficult to understand. On the job at King Soopers, she experience customers who could be brisk and rude. Add that to homesickness, living in a foreign country, and the stress of starting college, and the first few months of Patel’s time in America were stressful.

When she went home to India for winter break that first year, she told her parents she did not want to come back. Her father encouraged her to go back for one more semester and see if it got any better, and, at least she would know she gave it a whole year. “He told me to try to be more open to new things and new people, so when I came back I tried that and hoped it would work,” Patel says, “I think it did work.”

After getting used to life in Fort Collins for a few months, she began taking classes at Front Range Community College while she adjusted to living in America and sought to complete some general education credits. That part of the experience, at least, was great. “I love Front Range, I still love Front Range. All of the professors were so nice and helpful to me.”

It was after completing some general education classes that one of Patel’s relatives suggested she try taking a design class. She’d always loved design and decoration — she is known among her family for drawing intricate henna designs on her mother’s hands and making hand-made cards for every birthday — so she signed up for an Intro to Graphic Design class to see what it was like. She found she loved the class, and after she transferred to CSU in the fall of 2015, she pursued an art degree with a concentration in Graphic Design and a minor in English. “When I started, I didn’t know if I was any good at it, but at least I really liked it,” Patel says remembering her first few graphic design classes.

Reinvention Collaborative logo
Shreenal Patel’s logo design for the Reinvention Collaborative.

During the summer of 2017, Patel took a graphic design class with Professor John Gravdahl, who crafted the class around students marketing their designs to an actual client. Each of the students in the class, more than 20, were tasked with creating a new logo for the CSU branch of the Reinvention Collaborative which they would present to the organization at the end of the course. Patel was excited by the challenge of creating designs for an actual client, and saw it as a good opportunity to explore a career in graphic design.

2017 was also the year Patel started the process of becoming a U.S. citizen. She had come to enjoy living in the United States, and wanted to continue pursuing the opportunities she found here. “I love studying here,” Patel says, “and I love Colorado, but I also keep wanting to explore other states in the U.S. I really wanted to find a career here as a graphic designer.” The process of earning U.S. citizenship often involves an eight-or-nine month long application procedure, and by summer 2017 Patel was ready to give her oral interview, one of the last steps in the citizenship process. Preparation for the interview included studying a list of 100 possible questions that could be asked, knowing that the interviewers would pick about 10 questions at random for the actual interview. Just like the interview at King Soopers her first week in Colorado, Patel felt nervous to give an interview in English.

“I was most nervous to give the interview,” Patel says, “all of the preparation and just hoping I had good answers to all of the questions.” She passed with flying colors and was awarded her citizenship in the United States. When she found out she had received her U.S. citizenship, Patel says there were mixed feelings. “I was excited and proud that I had become a part of another culture and country, but at the same time I was also sad that I had to give up my Indian citizenship,” Patel says. Patel says that even still, there was more excitement than anything else, “I don’t think that being a U.S. citizen means that I am not Indian. I am Indian-American. I am privileged that I know two diverse countries and cultures.”

After passing the interview and gaining her citizenship, there was only one problem. Her acceptance Oath Ceremony was set for June 9, the same day as the presentations to the Reinvention Collaborative for her graphic design class. She was determined to make both events, though one was in Fort Collins and the other in Denver, and asked Gravdahl if she could present her designs first before going to her citizenship award ceremony. He agreed, and she got make it to her ceremony that afternoon accompanied by her aunt and brother. She was happy with her presentation for the Reinvention Collaborative, but didn’t expect to win. “Looking around the room, you see everyone’s designs and they’re all so good. I definitely didn’t think I would win, but it was fun to be able to participate,” Patel says of the experience.

About a month later, Patel got an email from the Reinvention Collaborative congratulating her having chosen her logo as the winner. What’s more, they hired her as a student designer to craft their letterhead, business cards, and web-page design. Now looking toward her graduation in May 2018, she is excited about taking that step in the direction of a graphic design career. As a new citizen of the United States, she is excited to find more graphic design work in both Colorado and beyond. “I didn’t think that the judges would remember my design by the time the event was over, let alone that I would win,” she says remembering the day, “but I guess June 9, 2017, turned out to be a pretty big day for me.”