Menomonie, Wis. – Seringa McHugh has always felt most excited when being creative and making art. This passion started when she was 5 years old, when she became fascinated with activities like photography, drawing and painting.
“I was always doing art projects,” she said. “During high school, I talked to a family friend who helped me choose what to major in and which college to attend. Choosing to pursue a graphic design and interactive media degree from the University of Wisconsin-Stout was a clear decision rooted in my strong passion for creativity and art.”
McHugh, of St. Paul, graduated in May and was awarded a competitive eight-month, paid LabFellows Fellowship through the BrandLab.
Since beginning her creative Fellowship in June, McHugh has collaborated closely with designers from Knock Inc. and Colle McVoy, branding and advertising agencies in Minneapolis. Additionally, she’s been engaged with clients and creative professionals associated with Target. Her active involvement covers projects that hold a direct influence over Target’s branding and marketing campaigns across teams such as apparel and accessories, beauty and pets.
“The Fellowship is a great chance to dive more into advertising and marketing. These are areas I really want to focus on and specialize in as a graphic designer,” she said. “I’m working on live projects that include visual merchandising, branding campaigns and digital marketing. Joining the program has been a wonderful decision, and I’ve met so many incredible, talented people.
“The GDIM program at UW-Stout definitely prepared me as I entered the Fellowship. It enhanced my creative skills by teaching me how to handle both giving and receiving feedback on design work,” McHugh explained. “Walking into the interview for the Fellowship, I felt a strong sense of confidence and eagerness to learn and work hard. I’m hoping that the Fellowship will be a steppingstone for me to take on more leadership roles in the future.”
Finding her voice in the design profession
The BrandLab is a nonprofit organization in Minneapolis that seeks to change the face and voice of the marketing and advertising industry by creating more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces.
The Fellowship for underrepresented communities annually prepares six recent BIPOC – Black, Indigenous and People of Color – graduates for careers with real-world experience on live projects in the advertising and marketing industry.
“I was excited to find out that the program lasted for eight months and was open to BIPOC graduates and undergraduates like me,” she said. “Being selected as a creative Fellow means a lot to me, and I’m not sure if I can fully describe how it feels.”
McHugh was introduced to the Fellowship by GDIM Professor Nagesh Shinde, who suggested she apply. Shinde is proud of McHugh’s accomplishments.
“Seringa has been an outstanding student. This Fellowship experience will propel her enthusiasm and give her the steppingstone to launch her professional career,” he said. “This award will help Seringa find her voice in the design profession, which needs more diverse voices and which requires intentional efforts to create inclusive environments, remove barriers to entry and promote equal opportunities. I applaud the encouragement, commitment and support that companies like Target, Colle McVoy, Knock and Brandlab provide.”
Shinde hopes the Fellowship will inspire more students from underrepresented communities to take up the design profession.
McHugh is originally from Majuro, Marshall Islands, located between Hawaii and Australia, where opportunities like the Fellowship don’t exist. Job opportunities on the islands are limited compared to larger countries, and the education system faces various challenges, like limited resources to qualified teachers and modern facilities.
“Limited job opportunities are hard to overcome and often lead many people to a life of poverty. A lot of the islanders move to the U.S. for a better life and access to more opportunities of employment and education, which is what my biological grandpa did,” McHugh said.
“I moved to Salt Lake City, Utah when I was a year old and lived with my grandpa. I was adopted when I was 3 years old by my family in Minnesota, who have supported me not only with an education, but also a loving home,” she said.
When McHugh graduated high school, her grandpa wished for her to gain a college education, graduate and get a good paying job. Those wishes motivated her to become the first person in her biological family to finish high school and college.
“It was an incredible feeling to achieve those milestones, and I was lucky enough to have my grandpa there for both my high school and college graduations,” she said.
“As a Pacific Islander, being part of the Fellowship program shows that no matter where you come from, you can achieve great things. The opportunity to collaborate with individuals from diverse backgrounds is something I cherish deeply, and I consider myself incredibly grateful for this experience,” she added.
McHugh would love to begin her career as a graphic designer at Knock Inc. or at another advertising agency or big corporation, like Target. And after more work experience and networking, she plans to grow her own business one day, based on a project she completed in the GDIM program.
“I created an adoption program for families and kids who are adopted, like me,” she said. “I named this program Adopt Yourself, which focuses on emotional and social wellness. I had a fun time developing and branding the program, and I hope to make this dream program become a reality someday.”
UW-Stout’s School of Art and Design, with six Bachelor of Fine Arts, two Bachelor of Science programs and a Master of Fine Arts in design, is the largest in the Upper Midwest with more than 1,200 students. It has been named one of the best graphic design schools in the country.