Over the past 11 years, SHINE — AIGA DC’s mentorship program — has had hundreds of mentor/mentee pairings. We’ve followed up with one of our pairs from 2017, Phim Her (mentor) and Victoria Sgarro (mentee) to see where they started as designers, catch up on their work now, and hear about the lasting impact SHINE had on their lives.
Can you tell us a bit about who you are as a designer?
Phim: I started working in agencies as a designer before entering the UX/UI space. While working as a UX-er, I realized that it is critical to advocate for user needs outside of tech and design. I started embedding myself into new business and marketing teams to translate and showcase the value of design best practices to non-designers (especially while working with folks at the VP, SVP and C-suite level). This resolve led me to work at POLITICO and The Washington Post before starting my independent creative strategy and career coaching business called HAWJ Studio.
Victoria: I studied Comparative Literature in college and most of my extracurricular activities and internships were in journalism (in which I focused on writing, but also did some print design work). After college, I began a post-bacc year in Florence, Italy, where I focused on my artistic interests. I mainly studied photography, but I also took a design class. These experiences were enough to put together a design portfolio and find a general graphic design role at a startup in DC when I returned to the States.
In that first job, I felt really lucky that my role was creative and artistic, but I also missed the conceptual and broader thinking that I engaged in as a Comparative Literature student. That’s when I joined the SHINE program. Phim, my SHINE mentor, listened to my background and asked me if I’d heard of UX design, a more conceptual and research-based form of design. (I hadn’t.) Her advice, as well as the project we worked on together in the SHINE program, helped me find a junior-level job as a UI/UX designer. Now, about five years later, I’m a senior product designer at The Atlantic.
Who was your SHINE mentee and what was that relationship like for you?
Phim: I have had a couple of SHINE mentees. One of them is Tori Sgarro. When it comes to Tori, the student has become the teacher. She went from learning about UX through our work together in SHINE to leading UX teams at places such as Axios and The Atlantic.
I remember telling Tori in our first session, “Don’t use me as a design mentor. Use me as a life mentor. I want to help you grow and explore life whether or not you remain in the design field.” That intention has helped us deepen and broaden the scope of our conversations together over the years.
Don’t use me as a design mentor. Use me as a life mentor. I want to help you grow and explore life whether or not you remain in the design field.
How has SHINE impacted your personal/career development?
Victoria: My SHINE project was a mobile website prototype for the Syria Supper Club nonprofit. I’d taken a class on Syrian art and literature created during the Syrian Civil War in college, and I lived in Italy from 2015 to 2016 during the refugee crisis, so when I read about the Syria Supper Club in the news, its mission stood out to me.
The Syria Supper Club connects locals in New Jersey with recently resettled Syrian and Iraqi refugees for dinners in order to create a sense of community and to fundraise. I thought that an improved website could help to connect people and organize these supper clubs. (Similar to Meetup.com, for example.)
Phim guided me through the UX design process to create a prototype. She also introduced me to several designers in the DC design community to test my prototype. These meetings didn’t just allow me to test and improve my designs: Phim set them up so that I could also learn about each person’s career path and the possibilities within design. I was new to DC at the time, and after this process, I felt more familiar with the DC design community.
Do you have any words of wisdom for our current participants?
Phim: Remember that you can learn as much from your mentee. Also, don’t let your ego get in the way of your mentee’s growth. Always ask yourself, “Am I being controlling or self-centered in doing this work? Am I projecting a scarcity mindset full of my fears, anxieties and wistful desires? Or am I modeling how to have a flexible growth mindset? Am I thinking of what is best for my mentee?”
Victoria: I appreciate that Phim used our mentorship to also introduce me to a design community. I’d recommend that current mentees connect with other mentors/mentees in the program, not just the one they’re officially assigned. (For example, I learned about the “Daily UI” challenge from another SHINE mentee, and working on this challenge for my portfolio contributed to me finding my first UI/UX design role.)
What is a current design project you are proud of? Victoria: I recently worked on launching Subscriber Newsletters (a suite of newsletters just for paying subscribers) at The Atlantic. This project has attracted new subscribers, brought on new writers, and improved the value of an Atlantic subscription. If you’re interested, you can read the full case study in my portfolio.