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Pencil? check, Pratt? check

In January, Xin Yue "Shaelyn" Zhu had her eye on The Art Institute of Chicago.

In January, Xin Yue "Shaelyn" Zhu had her eye on The Art Institute of Chicago.

The 19-year-old Coquitlam resident won a place to the world-renowned school and was eager to fine-tune the fine arts she had honed in mainland China and at Gleneagle secondary school.

Then, something wonderful happened.

In February, she learned the entry she had submitted to the Wearable Arts Awards, sponsored by the Port Moody Arts Centre, not only took first place for best use of material, it also received the most coveted prize: People's Choice."That was my first professional fashion experience," Zhu said.

Her success - and the offer of $19,000 US a year for four years - prompted her to change her post-secondary path and pursue a BFA in fashion design at the Pratt Institute in New York, one of the world's most competitive markets for fashionistas. At its School of Art and Design, she'll be able to mix her fashion studies with courses in jewellery and print making, and photography - a rare opportunity for a budding artist.

"Opportunity" is a word Zhu uses a lot in conversation, especially since she and her parents emigrated in 2008 from Shenzhen, Guangdong province.

There, Zhu said, she felt trapped by the stifling education system. Although she was enroled in a Beijing fine arts school for a year before moving to Canada, solidifying her foundation in drawing and painting, "I didn't want to be one of those ordinary Chinese students who just went to school and became an officer or businessman," she said. "I wanted to have more opportunities to learn art.... Canada has more opportunities for students like me."

At 17, in Grade 11 and with little English, Zhu repositioned to make the most of her talent. At Gleneagle and under the wing of Mike McElgunn, the school's fine arts department head, she took classes in sculpting, photography and mixed media, and applied for contests.

Besides Wearable Arts, she entered Emerging Talent, a showcase of artwork from senior students in School District 43, and fared well, winning a scholarship in May from the University Women's Club as the district's top female visual arts student.

She also clinched spots at the five post-secondary schools she applied to, including Emily Carr University of Art + Design.

Next month, Zhu leaves for Pratt and New York, a city she has never visited. "It's very exciting and very anxious at the same time," she said, noting she will reside on the Brooklyn campus. In New York, "everything is very fast. If you don't work hard, you're going to be lost."

As for her career, Zhu hasn't "quite decided yet but I want to work for some big fashion companies after I graduate and see if I have some opportunities to create my own fashion line," she said. "Hopefully, I will become a successful fashion designer."

To nominate a 2011 grad with artistic talent for theBright Young Things series, email [email protected].