Designing for Good: Newhouse Alumna Creates Mindful Work in Cape Town Internship

Shannon Kirkpatrick ‘23 wants her designs to make a difference. 

Shannon Kirkpatrick portrait

From high school art enthusiast to visual communications major to graphic designer at the Kolisi Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa, her journey encapsulates a narrative of continuous learning, evolving interests and the pursuit of meaningful design anchored in social impact.  

For Kirkpatrick, creativity in art has been a passion since childhood. Growing up in Syracuse, she leaned into her inclination towards visual modes of expression through printmaking, drawing and painting in high school. After her acceptance to the Newhouse School, she initially pursued a degree in television, radio and film, but the film industry didn’t feel like the right fit, she said.  

She attended a presentation about the power of design in storytelling by Bruce Strong, a visual communications associate professor, and “it sparked something deep down,” she said.  

Following a recommendation from Strong, Kirkpatrick met with Claudia Strong, a visual communications adjunct professor. The meeting steered her towards the realm of graphic design—a pivot that felt more aligned with her evolving interests. 

five people stand and smile together
Kirkpatrick (far left) with friends during her Kolisi Foundation internship. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Kirkpatrick)

“I walked into Professor Claudia Strong’s office hours the same day, and she must have given a compelling case to join the vis department because I switched my entire career path shortly after,” Kirkpatrick said. 

She found the graphic design program in the visual communications department wasn’t just about aesthetics; it was about narrating stories, articulating ideas and creating a dialogue through design. As she delved deeper into the program, Kirkpatrick found a platform to hone her skills as a designer for The Daily Orange, a student-run campus newspaper. 

three people pose and smile with their hands in the air
“This three-month experience in South Africa broadened my creative horizon—I know what it’s like to design with heart and see the tangible results, and now there’s no turning back.” (Photo courtesy of Shannon Kirkpatrick)

“The opportunity to apply my design and art direction skills to a fully functional, award-winning newspaper like The Daily Orange was an incredibly unique opportunity that you don’t get in other, more traditional design schools,” she said. “Being a part of the DO shaped the designer I am today.” 

In spring 2023, an exciting opportunity arose: a graphic design internship with the Kolisi Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa. The nonprofit organization’s mission is to combat inequality in South Africa, with initiatives focused on food security, education, gender-based violence and access to sports. 

a person sits at a desk and works on a laptop
“I decided to strive towards this career theme: creating designs that make a tangible difference,” Kirkpatrick said. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Kirkpatrick)

“From the first moment I heard about the internship, to the following meetings and interview, I was feeling a mixture of disbelief, excitement and curiosity,” Kirkpatrick said.  

She graduated from Syracuse University in May 2023 and quickly moved to a new continent, living and working in Cape Town for 10 weeks that summer. As a member of the foundation’s graphic design team, Kirkpatrick assisted with a variety of print and digital design projects, including an annual report, promotional materials and animated social media graphics.  

“Working with the Kolisi Foundation team had that real-world connection I sought,” she said. “The work I made mattered, and I could see the communities where my designs went first-hand. I’m happy to know those designs will continue impacting people there, every day.” 

The initial days of living in Cape Town were challenging as she navigated through cultural changes, but an adventurous hike with newfound friends at sunrise to Lion’s Head—a mountain overlooking Cape Town—marked a shift.  

“At this point, about halfway through my time in South Africa, I was finally starting to feel at home,” she said. “I had established strong friendships, felt comfortable with my host family and started finding my favorite hikes and cafes in Cape Town.” 

a person stands at the top of Lion's Head mountain in Cape Town, South Africa
Kirkpatrick hiking Lion’s Head in Cape Town. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Kirkpatrick)

As the internship came to a close, Kirkpatrick found that the designs she was producing, the intention behind them and her future were irrevocably changed. 

“Combining a new cultural experience with a design internship had a profound impact on me—I saw the true meaning behind ‘designing for good,’ where my designs would help this incredible nonprofit tell its stories,” she said.  

“Afterwards, I decided to strive towards this career theme: creating designs that make a tangible difference.” 

a person points to a sign pointing towards New York on the top of a mountain
Kirkpatrick on a hike in Cape Town. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Kirkpatrick)
a person hangs out of a safari vehicle on a game reserve
On a safari on Amakhala Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Kirkpatrick)

Now back in the United States, Kirkpatrick remains committed to designing purpose-driven work that creates positive change. She still designs for the Kolisi Foundation remotely and continues to shape the trajectory of her career as she blends her passions for art and social impact. 

“This three-month experience in South Africa broadened my creative horizon—I know what it’s like to design with heart and see the tangible results, and now there’s no turning back.”

Allen Huang is a graduate student in the media studies program at the Newhouse School.