Three UAE students emerge winners in the first phase of a regional design competition that was based this year on the theme of achievement. Dina El Shammaa reports.

Three female students from Al Rawafed Private School have won the first phase of the 2008 Design Competition organised by the Virginia Commonwealth University, Qatar (VCUQatar).

Noor Mohammad took first place; Maitha Al Muhainy second and Safa Abdul Kareem third. They now move on to second phase of the annual competition, which is offering two scholarships to the university's Qatar campus.

The students received cash prizes of $1,200 (Dh4,404), $800 (Dh2,936) and $600 (Dh2,202) for first, second and third place respectively, generously provided by Qatar Islamic Bank.

Study fine arts

VCUQ offers students in the Gulf Cooperation Council region a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in graphic, fashion and interior design. Each year the university organises an annual show, exhibitions, gallery events and design conferences. This is the university's fifth visit to the UAE.

It is coordinating with the Ministry of Education to attract as many students as possible in the UAE to their scholarship programme provided by Shaikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned, Chairperson of the Qatar Foundation.

"We have two scholarships to offer to two students from 12 countries; so the competition is huge. Students apply from countries such as Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Qatar, UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Palestine, Yemen and Saudi Arabia," said Valeri Jeremijenko, assistant dean of student affairs, VCUQatar, in an exclusive interview with Notes.

The contest has two rounds. The first consists of submitting an artwork on the theme of 'success' and the second measures the students' success rate.

The UAE section of the contest was judged by a jury made up of representatives from the Qatari Ministry of Education and the Arts Faculty from VCUQ. Other VCUQ officials including its associate dean of academic affairs, Dr Charles Bleick, also attended.

"I would like to congratulate all the winners of the contest. It is remarkable to see all the wonderful work submitted by students from all over the region. The design contest has served as a platform to develop young designers of today and to encourage the creative minds of tomorrow," said Bleick.

Prize money

Notes asked Noor, Maitha and Safa what they will be spending their prize money on. The girls seemed unsure. In Grade 12, they said they were inspired to enter the competition by their mathematics teacher Issam Chmait, who is also a student counsellor and the mathematics coordinator at Al Rawafed.

"This is the first time that we have gotten students interested in enrolling in the VCUQ competition," said Chmait. "Four students were interested, but one didn't submit her application. I teach three of the students mathematics and noticed their talent, so I encouraged them to enter the competition."

Noor, 18, a Lebanese-Canadian, came first for her drawing that demonstrated a tower of human beings in a pyramid-like sketch. They are reaching towards the top for success, she explained.

"My view of success is helping others reach the top. Through helping others you also help yourself," she told Notes.

Her dream is to enrol in a reputed university in either Canada or the US. She is currently working on that dream by rigorously working on her VCUQ portfolio.

Emirati student Maitha, 17, drew a sketch with one hand at the top and another at the bottom. "Once you reach the top there is still a lot more to do," she said. "I also drew flower buds at the bottom of the picture to demonstrate the potential to succeed. Once the flower starts to bloom, it grows. I also had a mountain of rocks with a person climbing on them. This demonstrates the difficulty people face. The rocks should not be seen as obstacles; people should climb up regardless of the challenges."

Maitha's ambition is to major in fine arts. She may choose interior design. She inherits her talent from her mother who enjoys oil painting and her brother who enjoys art in general, in spite of studying business administration.

Safa, 17, from Iraq, has a passion for Japanese Anime and Manga Art. She has taken courses to learn the Japanese language and is now fluent in it. She is inspired by Japanese art and cartoon work. She even listens to Japanese music.

"I may end up studying geo-science at the Petroleum Institute; it has a great future. I enjoy that major, but of course not as much as drawing. So at the moment I'm between two choices. I will probably study graphic design and become an animator," she said.

Safa's dream is to live and pursue a career in Japan. She loves and respects the Japanese style of drawing and animation. She is, however, looking forward to studying in VCUQ since she has previously lived in Qatar for nine years and is familiar with the culture.

VCUQ portfolio requirements:

All applicants to Virginia Commonwealth University Qatar (VCUQ) are required to submit a portfolio along with the required university application materials.

There are two portfolio options.

- Portfolio Option One: A body of work that includes 16 images. A minimum of 12 artworks that the students created in the past two years, has to be submitted to show the student's visual art and design talent. Drawing from observation is recommended, while copying anime, graffiti or tattoos is discouraged.

- Portfolio Option Two: This consists of eight different exercises using a soft lead pencil. The first drawing should emphasise shading, proportion and perspective of a freehand perspective drawing of one particular corner of a room. The second consists of a freehand drawing of a standing human figure.

- The third should be a crumple up of an A4 size paper to show the student's understanding of light, shading and composition. The fourth involves creating a collage using images torn or cut from magazines or other two-dimensional materials.

- The fifth is a two-dimensional image or material. The sixth is to illustrate one of the most interesting events in the student's life.

- The seventh involves selecting three pieces of fruit or vegetables and placing them on a windowsill. Finally the eighth considers a still life composition consisting of at least one bell pepper and three pieces of cutlery.