Interview with Karla Graciano, ELI Alumnus (‘19)

Karla Graciano, Graphic Designer at Thesis Agency
Karla Graciano, Graphic Designer at Thesis Agency

Karla talks about putting her all into the Emerging Leaders internship, which ultimately led to a full-time job after college

Elise: How did you find out about the EL internship?

Karla: In college, I was in this program called College Possible, which was a resource for low-income students to be able to get access to scholarships and internship opportunities that they may not know about. And it was my senior year in college, and my College Possible helper/coach texted me, and she was like, “Hey, you should look into this opportunity. It’s an internship with ELI. A lot of companies volunteer to take on these interns, and you totally qualify.” And I was like, “Oh, okay.” But in my head, I had my own ideas of the companies that I was going to apply to because I had a few connections, but they fell through and it was the last day to apply for ELI. So I was just like, “All right, I have to fill out this application and do it ’cause this might be my only opportunity.”

Elise: How did you end up getting partnered with Thesis?

Karla: So it was pretty funny because after filling out the application, you either get rejected or you go on to the next step, which is a mock interview. They usually have volunteers from the organizations and companies that are participating in ELI who go in and do those mock interviews with you, and for mine, I actually got set up with Liz Goodin [Thesis Account Director]. So yeah, it was super funny. And I was like, “eROI [now Thesis]—that’s the company I’m aiming for! I went to PSU to get my bachelor of science in graphic design and a minor in advertising and marketing, so it was a perfect fit. I had done some research beforehand, and I had stayed up ’til midnight practicing all the interview questions just to make sure that I nailed it. And I was like, “Oh my God, I have to make a good impression.” I think overall it went well.

“It really allowed me to build that strong connection with them.”

Elise: Clearly it did! So tell me about your internship.

Karla: Yes, so the internship was the summer of 2019. It was funny because I graduated from college on June 16 and my internship started on June 17. So it was like, “Hey, no summer for me!” But I was totally okay with that because I’d rather have a job in the future than a vacation. It was really fun overall. I had a good time. I had the position of graphic design intern specifically for the Nike team. I started off with my mentor being Annie [Carlson, Thesis Design Lead], but she went on maternity leave in the middle of my internship, so I pretty much had to rely on the entire Nike team to help me out, which ended up being a blessing in disguise ’cause I got to get to know more people and ask different types of people for help. So it really allowed me to build that strong connection with them. Everyone knew a lot, so I could pretty much go to anyone and be like, “Hey, do you remember the pixel spacing size for this?” And they’d be, “Yeah, it’s 40.” And I’m like, “Oh, okay, cool.”

Elise: I remember everyone was really impressed with you and the speed at which you picked up assignments.

Karla: I think a lot of the things I did in my internship was because I had a set goal in my mind—that I was going to get a job offer at Thesis. So I was just like, “Okay, I have to work hard.” Usually, the way I work, I’m pretty quick and efficient if I may say so myself. So learning the design program—Sketch was something that was easy for me to learn because I had already worked with a similar program called Figma in college. So it was super easy for me to move on to. Once I knew the program really well, I was able to bust out the work.

Elise: How did you end up getting a full-time job at Thesis after your internship?

Karla: So I did the internship and it was supposed to end at the end of August, I believe. But I remember Angie [Maurer, former Creative Director] pulling me aside, and she was just like, “Hey, I want to extend your internship to the end of September.” And I was like, cool, cool—this gives me one more month to really show them what I can do and that I can be an integral part of this team. And I remember I had written out a whole little paragraph on how I’d be really good at this job if I got hired and pretty much just asking for a job, and I was gonna talk to Angie and tell her all these things by the end of September. And then the end of September came, and it was so casual. It was like 3:00 p.m. on a Wednesday, and she pulled me aside. She was like, “Hey, we want to offer you a job.” And I was like, “Okay, damn, okay.” It was super exciting. I’m really glad I was able to make the impression that I wanted to and to show them that I did care about the company and the work.

“I definitely have high goals for myself.”

Elise: How has your job changed from your internship days?

Karla: I am now a designer working full time for Thesis, and it’s been a really good time. I would say that things have changed and definitely for the better. Being an intern, there were a lot of people with their eyes on me to make sure that I got the work done properly, which is totally understandable. But now I’m just like, okay, this can go through review as long as it’s approved by the design lead and I don’t have to get it approved through many others. And then the biggest change recently these past two months is that I’ve gotten the opportunity to work on concepts for Nike Factory Store instead of just doing production work. With the design director, Britta [Lundstrom], I’ve been able to create concepts for Nike Factory Store pretty much from scratch, which is usually rare. It’s really fun to concept ideas, and now we’re on our second opportunity to do it again. These are really great things that I can add to my portfolio. So it’s definitely been a change from intern production work to concepting, high-level design.

Elise: How has networking been for you so far? Do you keep in touch with other EL alumni?

Karla: When I was an intern, I took advantage of all the events that ELI provided; I attended every single one, and it was really nice because I got to be around people my age who are also going through like the same motions—being an intern at a company, gaining experience. It’s really nice to be able to talk to people, even in different fields. This year, not being an intern, I was still able to volunteer for phase two, the mock interviews, where I registered students. That was fun—I got to talk to some other past interns, and it was a good way to give back. As for the intern group last summer at Thesis, I still keep in touch with all of them. We all follow each other on Snapchat and Instagram. We still have an intern group chat on Instagram. They’re definitely more than just coworkers; I would consider them really good friends. That was one of the things I definitely liked about the Thesis internship—our entire first month, we were all sitting together at the same table and working from there, which really allowed us to be able to connect and get to know each other.

“As an intern, you have the luxury of not having the pressure of ‘This is a real-world job, and I should know what I’m doing.”

Elise: Tell me about your future career goals.

Karla: Yeah, I definitely have high goals for myself. During my performance review last year, I was able to see what my design directors and creative directors thought of me and where they think I was headed, and it was really nice to see that we both align on the same things. They definitely think that I’m an efficient worker and that I get things done. The goal in about five, six years is to be at a design-lead level at Thesis. I would love to remain at this company just because it has shown me so much, and I’m spoiled because it’s definitely not like other companies. We have a lot of people of color, which I totally appreciate. I super appreciate that Ryan [Buchanan, CEO of Thesis] is really conscious about what’s going on, because I feel like sometimes when you own a business, you let other people take care of it, but he’s involved and he takes notice of these things. So that’s really awesome and good on his part.

Elise: What advice would you give to this year’s EL interns? They’re going to be interning remotely this year.

Karla: Oh yeah, we’re going to have a virtual happy hour with the design interns next weekend. I would definitely say ask questions, because as an intern, you have the luxury of not having the pressure of “This is a real-world job, and I should know what I’m doing.” As an intern, you have a little bit of that safety net where you can ask questions without feeling dumb or like, “Oh, I should already know this.” I asked so many questions when I was an intern; I sat next to Jason [Huff, Senior Production Designer], and every day I would ask him at least ten questions about something. It was a lot, but it helped build our good old friendship. It pays off to ask questions, absorb all the information you’re getting. Totally worth it.

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