Creativity is everywhere for Development Associate Shayna Sell

November 26, 2018

Sell shares how her U-M art education influenced her both personally and professionally.

Shayna Sell
Shayna Sell

Shayna Sell is a creator. Of art. Of cookies. Of annual giving campaigns.

The UM-Dearborn development associate says she looks to her U-M degree to help find the right look or feel when crafting campaigns. “People don’t give to entities; they give to people,” said Sell, currently working on Tuesday’s Giving Blueday. “Showing the impact of a gift allows me to use my creative side through writing and graphic design.”

Sell, a first-generation college student who focused on fine art and sculpture at Stamps School of Art & Design, knows the importance of giving well. A U-M gift gave her a study abroad art experience in Florence, Italy.

Sell recently talked with us about how her educational experience inspires what she does today, her favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe and more.

When you feel like you’ve lost your creative spark, take a step back.

Something that’s stuck with me from my art lessons was to walk 10 feet away and look at your work from a distance. Sometimes you just can’t see things when you are too close, too into the weeds.

I still use that thinking when I’ve been looking at something for a few hours and feel creatively stuck. Our campus is beautiful and I go for walks for a change of scenery. Or I’ll head over to the Natural Sciences Building and eat my lunch in one of the community spaces; it’s such a calming building. Then I come back to my desk with a clear head. It’s amazing how a little bit of distance can help you figure out where to go next.

If the time seems right, it probably is.

I always have loved dogs and when I bought my house last year, I knew I wanted a dog, but after I got settled in. But then I saw — well, my mom saw — that a Facebook friend of a friend had posted that a dog needed rehomed for family reasons.

Grady was a German Shepard mix and had the sweetest face; he was an hour away and I drove to meet him. I was told that he likes attention and I knew I could give that to him. Even though the timing wasn’t originally what I planned, I knew it was right. Sometimes you need to trust that feeling. Now Grady’s my buddy and I can’t imagine my house being a home without him.

If you want a good result, planning ahead is important (even with cell phone snapshots).

I have a photo of me with [former Michigan and current NFL football player] Denard Robinson. When I was a student, he was at a Michigan volleyball game that a friend and I attended. We got up the courage to ask him to take a photo with us, and he graciously said yes. But I didn’t have a plan on who’d take the photo or where we’d stand. A very nice lady offered to take it, but she wasn’t comfortable using my camera phone. And the lighting was very bad. The result was a photo so blurry that it could be any three people standing together.

I now look around at who’s taking photos — like find the girl who has her phone out to capture everything — before planning to have a photo taken. I’d also think of a good place to take it before I’d approach anyone. Even though I didn’t plan ahead, I am glad the photo exists. The story now makes me laugh.

The Crisco container has a pretty amazing chocolate cookie recipe.

A big passion of mine outside of drawing is cooking and baking. Family and friends have asked me to bake cookies for different types of parties and that evolved into a small business [Shayna's Cookie Jar] where I bake and teach cookie decorating. A sugar cookie is the perfect cookie canvas when it comes to decorating; and they are good, but it’s actually not my favorite type of cookie.

My favorite is chocolate chip — more specifically, the chocolate chip recipe on the butter-flavored Crisco container. I’ve tried a lot of cookie recipes — you know, for research — and that is always the best in my opinion. It uses all brown sugar, so it has a fuller flavor. It’s not a fancy family recipe, but it is so yummy. That’s really what matters.

An opportunity can change your life in unexpected ways.

When there was an opportunity in my art program to study in Florence, Italy, I was interested in going, but had no idea how that was going to happen. Then a Stamps International Experience counselor connected me with a donor-funded scholarship. If I didn’t have that, there is no way I would have been able to go.

I am forever grateful. I visited museums like the Uffizi Gallery, sites like the Giardino do Boboli, and would draw for hours, taking in inspiration. All of that happened because of someone’s generosity. It also showed me that I wanted to work in a field that allows me to be creative, and help others give and receive life-changing opportunities like the one I had.