Graphic design alumnae L-R Top row: Amber Kleitz Cox, Cait Bender, Emi Johnson Jones, Rachel Suding. Second row: Kylar Ware, Ann Wood, Deryn Greer Walker.
Graphic design alumnae L-R Top row: Amber Kleitz Cox, Cait Bender, Emi Johnson Jones, Rachel Suding. Second row: Kylar Ware, Ann Wood, Deryn Greer Walker.

Seven young women who graduated from UofL with fine arts degrees lost no time in generously designing a way to help others like them.

Not long after graduating in 2017 and 2018, the group founded and funded a women’s scholarship to be awarded annually to an outstanding rising senior in the graphic design program.

Benefiting from taking classes together in a tightknit cohort, the graduates developed strong friendships and wanted to keep in touch after earning their degrees while also staying connected intellectually. Most remained in Louisville initially, so they started monthly gatherings called the Dezine Book Club, named after an inside joke based on their graphic design experience.

Later, as some were moving away to other jobs, they decided to establish a scholarship, which they branded Dezine for that sense of fun and camaraderie and which they intended to encourage other female students to benefit from a collaborative experience like theirs. That sense of the design community hearkened back in part to Leslie Friesen, the Power Agency designer-in-residence at UofL’s Hite Art Institute, according to Deryn Greer Walker ’18.

“She encouraged collaboration and critique, in the sense of ‘I want to do well and help others to do better,’” said Walker, now an experience designer for Humana in the Boston area. “We were all constantly working together.”

The women crafted the criteria for the scholarship to specifically speak to that, seeking a recipient who is “preeminently collaborative, perpetuates constructive feedback and transcends design by … fostering an attitude of fearless idea-sharing, not afraid to risk their personal advantage, and …. by investing in cross-disciplinary skills and interests to improve themselves and the communities they move in.”

“Particularly in the creative field, it’s typical to hold onto your idea,” Walker said, but added that it can be more valuable to take risk, move out of a “silo,” gain other perspectives and build on ideas with others. “When you make your idea available to other people, you invite the good.”

The seven alumnae cooperate on the selection process, dividing up the interviews with applicants, using an evaluation rubric and discussing the conversations with the candidates. The first recipient was Arry Schofield ’21; a second recipient of the $1,000-$1,500 scholarship will to be chosen this summer for the fall semester.

“They were great,” Schofield said. The freelance design contractor said she enjoyed the interview process and the opportunity to talk to women who had gone through her same experiences. Like them, Schofield said, she appreciated the bonding with other graphic design students that results from the cohort approach of taking all the same classes and working together.

“Another huge plus of the graphic design program is all of the alums are really empathetic toward people going through the program,” Schofield said. “I really hope I can pay that forward.”

Four Dezine founders have kept the Louisville area as home: Emi Johnson Jones ’18 with GE Appliances’ Giddy online startup program, Cait Bender ’18 with INgrid Design, Amber Kleitz Cox ’18 with Humana and Kylar Ware ’18, a freelance illustrator and designer whose “Our Home” and “Raise Your L” murals adorn UofL’s Swain Student Activities Center.

Ann Wood ’17 is a brand designer for Pharma at Johnson & Johnson in New York, while Rachel Suding ’18 is a graphic designer for the Miami Marlins.

Through the graphic design program the sports-minded Suding was able to find a school internship with the Louisville Bats baseball team and accept a full-time job there after graduation.

“That paved the way for me to major league baseball,” Suding said. “Now I’m in my dream career. I think our design program gave me a really strong foundation.”

Even though the seven designers have pursued somewhat different career paths, they still share ideas and realize they are fortunate to sustain their UofL-born connection though scattered geographically.

“We were looking to give back to the program that gave us so much,” Suding said.