Jeff Sornig was not interested in parlaying his 23-year administrative career in the military into a civilian job when he retired from the U.S. Marine Corps in 2012. Instead, the 48-year-old decided to revisit an interest that had propelled him through every art class offered by Petoskey High School.
“It was a different time then. No one in the late ‘80s encouraged art as a career,” notes Sornig. “Joining the Marines was my ticket out of the north.”
During his time in the service, Sornig was deployed to the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan. A happier experience was meeting his wife, Heather, an Ohio native and also a career Marine. The couple transferred from Virginia Beach, Virginia, to Selfridge Air National Guard Base in 2006, from which they both launched their post-service lives. They live in Chesterfield Township and Heather works for TACOM, while Sornig graduated from Macomb’s Media and Communication Arts (MACA) Program in May.
“I’ve always been interested in character design and animation,” offers Sornig, dad to Brad, 27, and Vaughn, 17. “(Macomb’s) program gives you a good working knowledge of the skills needed for the industry.
Sornig gladly interrupted those studies to accept a coveted “NICKternship” at Nickelodeon in Burbank, California. His mother-in-law lives near there and offered him a room during what he thought would be a 10-week stay. The internship, however, turned into a two-year job. Sornig worked on shows that included Pinky Malinky, the first collaboration between Nickelodeon and Netflix, for which he received a rolling credit as a production assistant. In 2018, he returned home and to his studies.
“Coming out of the Marines, there is a tendency to want to do something similar in the civilian world,” reflects Sornig, “but I had no desire to do that.”
With questions about the educational benefits he was entitled to as retired military, Sornig visited Macomb’s Office of Veteran and Military Services before enrolling. He discovered that all costs associated with earning an associate degree would be covered.
“I started down a general (MACA) track,” says Sornig, “and then focused on my particular interests in imaging and illustration.”
When Kris Mellebrand, one of his MACA professors, promoted the annual Shorewood Kiwanis Harper Charity Cruise design contest in class, Sornig decided to give his new skills a spin around a competitive track.
“Although I’m really a Dodge guy, I’ve always liked the design of the ‘59 Corvette convertible,” offers Sornig. “I also love the midcentury modern aesthetic, and it all comes together in my design.”
From 60 entries, Sornig’s was awarded first place, with fellow MACA students Allison Ray and Jeannie Skirpan taking second and third, respectively. Held annually and open to only Macomb MACA students, the contest includes cash awards donated by the Shorewood Kiwanis and its corporate sponsor, Roy O’Brien Ford, which are matched by scholarships from the Foren Family Foundation Engineering and Advanced Technology fund from the Macomb Community College Foundation. The winning design will be printed on T-shirts sold during the cruise, which takes place the fourth Wednesday of each August along Harper Ave. in St. Clair Shores.
Sornig plans on being there and, he acknowledges, “I’ll be buying a few T-shirts.”