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Multiple internships help new grad launch career in graphic communications

| Judy Berthiaume

Photo caption: Recent graduate Kristina Tlusty used what she learned in a series of internships during and after college to launch her professional career in the field of graphic communications. She’s working for the international organization UNICEF, where she recently completed an internship.

What’s the best thing about having an internship during or after college?

Pretty much everything, says Kristina Tlusty, a recent University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire graduate who is using the knowledge and connections she’s gained from a series of internships to help launch her career in the field of graphic communications.

“I have grown exponentially from the chance to test-run my knowledge and skills in design,” Tlusty, who graduated from UW-Eau Claire in May 2021 with a degree in graphic communications, says of her internship experiences. “In an internship, I can try new things, make mistakes and keep learning in a relatively low-stakes environment with mentors and advisors while working on real-life projects with real people.”

By pursuing multiple internships — some in-person and some remote — she’s had opportunities to practice what she’s learned in her college courses while also trying out the kinds of jobs and work environments she might want to pursue in the future, says Tlusty, whose most recent internship with UNICEF has grown into a contract position with the international organization.

Embracing internship opportunities

Kristina Tlusty

Kristina Tlusty completed multiple internships as a Blugold.

Tlusty’s internships have included being an in-person intern in UW-Eau Claire’s Office of Activities, Involvement and Leadership, where she was part of a team of designers and social media managers; a remote intern with a local financial firm as the only designer; an in-person intern with UW- Eau Claire’s Student Senate Communication Commission; a remote intern with a large team of TurnUp Activism designers that had an even larger team of organizers, public relations and social media specialists; and an in-person intern with a small team of artists, writers and curators for Midwest Queeritivities.

Most recently, she was a remote intern for UNICEF, a globally renowned nonprofit organization that helps children worldwide. As an intern, she worked under supervising designers and alongside UNICEF specialists in various fields.

Tlusty applied for the UNICEF internship on a whim after realizing how well it aligns with her interests.

“If I know one thing about the kind of work I want to do, it’s that I want to use design to do good and, more specifically, support the people who have been doing so in their communities,” Tlusty says. “After being a curator and graphic designer for Midwest Queeritivities, a Foster Gallery exhibition featuring art and literature by queer Midwestern artists, and the graphic design director for TurnUp Activism, a nonprofit and mobile app that provides youth activists with the tools and community to do activism, I knew I wanted to find more opportunities to contribute to social causes that I care about.

“I'm so lucky to have found this role that supports UNICEF's work and history of advocating for the rights of the world's children.”

From intern to contractor at UNICEF

As an intern, Tlusty worked on what she describes as “really inspiring projects,” including creating visuals — icons, illustrations and site pages — within UNICEF’s Juniper, a suite of digital tools that help public sector organizations use cryptocurrency. She also helped to design an annual donor report; to support the design of an internet-testing desktop application that supports Project Connect’s goal of connecting every school in the world to the internet; and to design a testing and data contribution website for Kindly, which aims to combat cyberbullying.

Her internship was based in UNICEF's Office of Innovation, which is tasked with innovating and scaling solutions for children and communities around the world, particularly using emerging technology, such as using drones to deliver vaccines to rural areas.

For some projects, Tlusty used graphic design skills that she had developed in college, while other projects required her to learn principles that were new to her.

“All of this — learning-on-the-fly, applying my prior knowledge to new projects, working on meaningful and worthwhile projects — was a privilege to experience, but I think the chance to continue intentional learning after college was the highlight and ultimate takeaway from the UNICEF internship,” Tlusty says. “I joked in my end-of-internship presentation that the five words I would use to describe my time with UNICEF are ‘humbling crash course in design’ because of how much of design and, quite honestly, the world, I didn't know or understand. It was so humbling to have jumped into a totally different kind of work and world right after completing my degree.”

Best of all, Tlusty says, was that her “crash course” gave her access to “the smartest, most innovative and most patient people. Everyone at the Office of Innovation is endlessly talented, thoughtful and generous with their time and talents, and I have learned so much about design, technology, innovation and worldly thinking from them.”

Hopefully, she says, her experiences with UNICEF will set the tone for her future professional career, a career she hopes will involve her continuously learning new things.

She’s thrilled that her UINCEF internship has grown into a contract position with the organization.

As a junior visual designer with UNICEF's Office of Innovation, Tlusty is supporting the design of internal and external communications and working with other designers to design digital products.

“I'm really excited to work on more digital design projects in this role,” Tlusty says. “I had only just started applying all that I'd learned about digital design in my internship to projects like Kindly. I'm looking forward to participating more in the user research-stage of this kind of design, where we better understand the audience who will use the website or application so that we can design a product that reflects their context and provides the best experience possible for the most users.”

Building a foundation at UW-Eau Claire

A native of White Bear Lake, Minnesota, Tlusty came to UW-Eau Claire after family members who live in the area convinced her it would be a good fit. Tlusty says she’s glad she listened to them.

“I loved the campus, enjoyed visits with the art & design faculty, and wanted — and found — the kind of liberal arts education that would make me a well-rounded designer, thinker and human,” Tlusty says of her alma mater.

Tlusty, who was part of the University Honors Program, already knew when she came to campus that she wanted to study design.

“I'd loved design even before applying to college,” Tlusty says. “One of the first memories I have of noticing design was in line at a Starbucks and being fascinated by some of the food packaging design. But I grew to appreciate and understand the value of the communication of design while at school. I learned how to talk about design and how to use graphic design to convey certain messages. I also learned that design can be used to imagine ‘different’ or ‘better.’”

Tlusty says UW-Eau Claire faculty’s expertise in teaching and mentoring helped prepare her to be successful in her internships and in her professional career.

“It's hard to imagine my success in college or in pursuing internships without many UWEC faculty members,” Tlusty says. “I've had so many professors, in the art & design department and outside of it, who've taken interest in one of my projects, taken time to review and critique my work or portfolio, recommended me for internships or design opportunities, introduced me to new disciplines or skills outside of class, or simply created course content and communities that interest me and make me curious.”

Cedar Marie, an assistant professor of art & design, played an especially significant role in her undergraduate career, Tlusty says. Marie continues to be a valued mentor, she says.

“I first met Cedar as a very shy freshman in her 3D sculpture class my very first semester at UWEC,” Tlusty says. “One of the biggest things I've learned from Cedar is that being curious and learning from and collaborating with other people is a foundation of creativity and inspires great cross-disciplinary work. I've become exponentially more confident and thoughtful as a designer and human because of her mentorship.”

Marie says it was an honor to be part of Tlusty’s college experience.

“It was such a joy to participate in and watch Kristina’s growth from a shy yet curious first-year student into a confident and innovative designer,” Marie says. “She right away began to develop opportunities for herself because of strong work ethics and a dedication to creating meaningful visual communications.”

As one of three student collaborators for the Foster Gallery exhibition "Midwest Queeritivities," Tlusty engaged in all levels of the curatorial process with such professionalism that she was asked to take the lead in designing the 44-page exhibit catalog, Marie says.

Building off this experience along with designing three UW-Eau Claire NOTA publications and developing an independent study project in book design, Tlusty continually fine-tuned her knowledge and skills throughout her UWEC career.

Tlusty also understands the importance and value of gaining experience through internships and sought out opportunities at the local, regional and national levels, Marie says.

“These informative experiences helped her to enrich her design skills for real-world purposes,” Marie says. “For example, as a design lead intern for the national nonprofit organization TurnUp, she helped design social network applications that provide youth activists with the tools, resources and connections they need to create meaningful change in their communities.”

Many assignments and projects she completed during her UW-Eau Claire graphic communications courses involved designing in a lab setting, Tlusty says. Through her internships — including the one with UNICEF — she’s built on what she learned in the labs and classrooms on campus, she says.

While her internships required her to be creative and thoughtful just as she had to be when completing her class projects, the real-world experiences also have taught her how to do those things while juggling time restraints, brand guidelines, client requests and limited resources, she says.

Tlusty says every internship she’s had is helping to shape how she sees her future.

“I've enjoyed each of my internships for different reasons and have adjusted my career course after each one,” Tlusty says.

While internships have been an invaluable part of her journey, Tlusty says she knows she is “privileged” to have had the opportunity to pursue them.

“I’ve built my portfolio and experiences from these internships, paid and unpaid, and I know not everyone has the financial support, time, intensive faculty guidance or pure luck that I had that allowed me to take the chance on each opportunity and climb from one to the next,” Tlusty says. “I'm a huge advocate of internships and would encourage any Blugold to pursue them when it’s possible.”