Local artist Jennifer McGowan named CAC’s Student of the Month for May

By Guy Harrison, Media & Marketing Specialist

PINAL COUNTY, Ariz. - Jennifer McGowan, a painter, skydiver and native of St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada, once owned a highly-successful business in her home country until she made a series of what she calls "bad decisions." Considering where her life is now, perhaps the most appropriate thing that can be said is that her mistakes, which resulted in her losing her business, caused the adventure-seeker to go on the ultimate adventure, one that has given her a new lease on life, a greater appreciation for her skills and an education.

From a very early age, McGowan has always been a gifted artist, both as a painter and as a hair and makeup stylist, and she grew to love skydiving. When she lost her business, and seemingly everything else, she decided to combine her interests and take a courageous leap.

McGowan stuffed a tent and a backpack with her essentials, including her art supplies, and traveled to the United States with a roving team of skydivers. Through art, she chronicled their adventures as she lived out of her tent for three months without much food or access to many of life's comforts.

"I didn't smell very good," she says, grateful for the help she received from the skydiving community along the way.

And, in addition to the assistance she received, the journey allowed her to start fresh and put her past behind her.

"It was a freeing experience," despite the Spartan conditions, she says. "It gave me time to heal."

Her travels eventually brought her to Eloy, where she met a man who allowed her to use his art studio during the chilly desert nights of the winter. This man eventually became McGowan's husband, representing another turning point in her life, with many more to come.

Upon settling into the Eloy/Casa Grande area, McGowan sought a return to her spot behind the stylist's chair but found the process of converting her Canadian license lengthy. This, combined with a small job she took in the meantime (packing parachutes) made her stir crazy. Thus, McGowan, who had never actually graduated from high school, enrolled in Central Arizona College's GED preparatory classes.

Not only did McGowan earn her GED, she also received a scholarship to attend CAC, where she is currently pursuing an associate degree in fine arts.

"I'm completely grateful and overjoyed. Being able to go to school and study fine art was always a dream of mine but I never thought it was in the cards," she says, noting that there is an advantage for the artist that can boast a college degree while displaying their work in a gallery. "Attending CAC on a scholarship is like a dream come true."

McGowan has made the most of her opportunity, impressing her instructors on her way to being selected as CAC's Student of the Month for May.

"[McGowan] is an exceptionally hard working student, who has a real passion for learning," says Sue Tatterson, CAC's digital media professor and one of three faculty members to nominate her for the award.

"Her research and oral presentations have been exemplary," Alyson Hanson, professor of humanities and reading, says. "She gets along well with other students and easily takes a leadership role in group activities."

"She is willing to help other students and her excellent work is an inspiration for other students," says Professor of Art Susan Ramos.

As she continues to pursue her associate degree, McGowan is set up as a stylist at D Hair Lounge in Casa Grande. In the future, she'd like to start her own hair and make-up business and wants to use her artwork to inspire the masses.

"I want to deliver a message of fearlessness through art. I want to use my gift to help free people from what holds them back."

Thanks to her fearlessness, when she ventured away from home with what essentially amounted to a tent and art supplies, the world may just get to receive McGowan's message.

Central Arizona College - District Office 8470 N. Overfield Road, Coolidge, AZ 85128 Phone: 800-237-9814