Commencement Profile: Tracy Ehrlich

Longtime employee Tracy Ehrlich found her passion—and a path to her degree—while advancing the Department of Art and Art History's glass arts program.
By Maya Bell

Longtime employee Tracy Ehrlich found her passion—and a path to her degree—while advancing the Department of Art and Art History's glass arts program.

Commencement Profile: Tracy Ehrlich

By Maya Bell
‘Part-Time Junior’ Sculpts Her Way to a B.F.A.

Over her nearly 35 years working at the University of Miami, Tracy Ehrlich has filled many roles at the College of Arts & Sciences, but the few years she spent raising funds and awareness for the small glass arts program was a personal life-changer.

That stint introduced her to a new passion, one that set her back on the path that initially brought her to the University in 1982: earning her degree. On Thursday, Ehrlich will be among the handful of undergraduate students awarded a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Their work also will be on display through December 15 in the Bachelor of Fine Arts Exhibition at the Rainbow Gallery.

Unlike her younger, more traditional fellow students, Ehrlich has no plans to pursue graduate studies or a career in graphics, photography, museum or gallery work. But she takes immense personal satisfaction in achieving a goal that has enriched her life—and her décor—in so many ways.

“It started out as something I needed for work,” she said. “I thought I needed a degree to advance my career, and then it turned out to be something I loved. I did it for my personal fulfillment.”

Her office in the Ashe Building, where as senior sponsored programs manager for the College of Arts & Sciences she helps faculty apply for grants, is filled with the fruits of her passion.

Her bookshelves are lined with the vases, orbs, abstract blocks, and other glass sculptures she began creating in 2001, after she was selected to attend a three-week course in hot glass casting and cold working at the renowned Pilchuck Glass School near Seattle.

Her walls are covered with the photographs she snapped of waiting people, dogs on leashes, and the string of 1950s-era motels on Tamiami Trail, and the various style prints she made from creating photo collages on the computer.

“I used to sell things, but now I give them away,” said Ehrlich, who had previously dabbled in crafts but never had formal art training.

A Miami transplant, she enrolled at UM after graduating from Miami Coral Park Senior High School in 1982. That’s also when she began her first job at the U, as a student assistant in the office of UM’s fourth president, Tad Foote. Two years later, she moved to the Office of Dean in the College of Arts & Sciences and, working full time, dropped out of school and got married.

She always planned to resume her studies, even pursuing a Bachelor in General Studies for a while. But she found the coursework dull. Then, in 1999, for a new job as an advancement officer, she helped the Department of Art and Art History launch a visiting artist’s program and an annual auction of their and their students’ works. She also unwittingly unlocked a hidden passion.

The first visiting artist, Therman Statum, a pioneer of the contemporary glass movement, invited Ehrlich to join the inaugural Miami Hot Art Glass Studio Workshop in 2000, and she was hooked.

“He gave each participant a small glass house to decorate,” Ehrlich recalled. “I still have mine. I cannot express the satisfaction that came from making that piece and the feedback received from others who admired it. It was intoxicating.”

Declaring herself a “part-time junior,” Ehrlich became a resident artist in the department in 2001 and attended 16 successive Miami Hot workshops. Over the years, she exhibited her work at the Lowe Art Museum and the Beaux Art Festival, and attended Glass Art Society conferences in Seattle, Amsterdam, and New York, all the while completing 72 credits in art and art history, and 120 in general courses.

And now 16 years later, with her B.F.A. degree destined for a special spot in her art-filled office, Ehrlich is proud of the work-life balance the U helped her strike, which wasn’t always easy.

As she notes, “Art classes are three hours long so having to take one in the middle of the workday day was a humongous challenge.”