First Job: Fighting AIDS

First Job: Fighting AIDS

Before the ink on her diploma was completely dry, graduating senior Robin Hilkey 15 GD headed to NYC to begin a full-time position as a junior designer at (RED), the organization Bono and Bobby Shriver founded in 2006 to raise money for the Global Fund to fight AIDS and to keep that need on the public agenda. All of the funds (RED) generates is put to work on the ground in Africa, with a focus on preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

“(RED)’s summer campaign launched the day after Commencement, so the workload is already pretty demanding,” Hilkey notes. “I’ll spend at least a couple of weeks monitoring how the campaign is going and creating any additional content that’s needed.”

Hilkey already knows the drill. After interning at (RED) last summer, she willingly took a leave of absence from RISD last fall when the organization needed a graphic designer and asked her to pinch-hit. Fortunately, she says, many of the conceptual design and production skills she learned at RISD—along with the work ethic—translated well at (RED).

Although she wasn’t expecting to land a job quite this quickly, Hilkey was raised by “a hippie mom” and always knew she wanted to do socially conscious work. Last semester while she was working at (RED), she lived at home in Brooklyn—where she grew up—and kept her degree requirements on track by taking liberal arts classes at the college where her mother teaches American history.

In addition to majoring in Graphic Design at RISD, Hilkey opted to do a History, Philosophy + the Social Sciences concentration in Self and Society. “Liberal arts classes kept me from getting bogged down in my studio work,” she explains, “and I really felt connected to [Associate Professor and Concentration Coordinator] Lindsay French. I took her Refugees, Migrants and Displaced People seminar and was planning to do an independent study with her in Uganda before I got the internship at (RED).”

As a sophomore, Hilkey volunteered at a couple of children’s centers in Uganda, working through an organization called Essubi Arts. Prior to that, during her Foundation year, she traveled to Haiti and Tanzania with a Christian group that provides free eye exams and glasses. “I knew nothing about eyes,” she says with a laugh, “but I wanted to help. I would usually end up doing art with the kids, which led to my work in Uganda.”

As graduation approached, Hilkey—who was adopted from China when she was a baby—worked feverishly on her final degree project: a short film and book compiling and critiquing the preposterous ways adoption is portrayed in the media.

“Orphans in the movies are either evil geniuses or completely angelic,” says Hilkey. “As a Graphic Design major, I was shocked to come across the term ‘orphan’ in print publishing. [To emphasize the absurdity of the term], I intentionally typeset ‘orphans’ into my final degree project.”

Last spring Hilkey created Letters for Them, a project for a Photography elective called Family Album. “I had thought a lot about what I might want to say to my birth parents if I ever had the chance to meet them,” she explains. “The project is a pseudo-address where fellow adoptees can send the letters they’ve always wanted to write to their birth families.”

Mommy Magazinea print project created for the same class—is a detailed and beautifully designed record of her mother’s life before she adopted Hilkey. “Most of the images came from a big box of family photos I found at my grandmother’s house,” she says. “I have no information about my biological mother, which heightens my obsessive need to catalogue every detail I can learn about the mother I do know.”

Still, now that she’s working in NYC, Hilkey is looking for her own place. “Graduating is bittersweet,” she says. “But I’ve always been interested in using design to help the world, and (RED) is the perfect fit for me.”

text by Simone Solondz / photo by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH

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