Introducing the 2017 Summer Design Fellows

The Be Original Americas Summer Fellowship Program begins on June 12th, and two students have been selected from an outstanding pool of applicants for a 7-week immersive experience in the making, distributing, and selling of authentic design. We spoke with the 2017 Fellows Irene Lee of Cornell University and Tom Groom of Illinois University at Chicago about what brought them to the Fellowship, what they’re most excited about, and what they’re doing when they’re not immersed in design.

The Fellows:

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Irene Lee: My name is Irene Lee and I am a junior studying Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell University. I am passionate about sustainable and preventive design and believe these facets of design are essential to improving lives. On my university campus, I am a designer for Waste Not, a project that aims to reduce post-consumer waste contamination and prevent diversion to the landfill by creating a uniform system of signage, product labeling, and educational tools. My goal as a designer is to be process-oriented, supporting my design decisions with thorough research and innovation.

Tom Groom: I am originally English—I moved to Chicago six years ago to marry my partner who I met in France when I was on a six month trip, cycling from farm to farm. I’m a little older than other people that I go to school with (I’m the big 3-0 this year), as I didn’t go to university in England—I originally wanted to be a fighter pilot or biochemical engineer. In my early 20s I played in a band and then decided to travel England and Europe staying with families and working on farms. This experience led me to design in a very strange way, where I became interested in locally crafted objects and graphic design. I am currently studying at UIC and will graduate in 2019 with a double-major in Industrial and Graphic design, and a minor in art.


What are your expectations for the fellowship? 

IL: I am excited to learn about the process of producing original design, all the way from the research to the distribution. I want to learn about the design philosophies of the companies we visit and hopefully develop my own to guide my future designs and work.

TG: I don’t really have any expectations, just excitement. I’m excited to meet the other student I’ll be spending the seven weeks with and get to know her. Second, I’ve never been to New York before, so I’m really looking forward to visiting and having the chance (in some down time) to see some of the huge cultural landmarks and museums there. Lastly and most importantly, I’m very eager to learn as much as I can from the experience and hope to be able to bring some of that back to UIC with me and pass it on to my fellow students here.


Why did you choose the Be Original Americas Fellowship?

IL: I chose Be Original Americas Fellowship because of its immersive nature. The opportunity to step outside of the classroom environment and learn from industry professionals will truly be eye opening. I know that the fellowship will help me in setting new goals as an aspiring designer.

TG: When I found out about the Be Original Americas Fellowship, I spent time looking at the website and was incredibly excited by the companies that Be Original Americas is involved with. This is a once in a life-time opportunity to look inside these incredibly famous and productive companies. I’m really looking forward to visiting different areas of the design industry and having the chance to have design professionals help develop my insight into areas which education at university can explore, but not fully develop like full-scale manufacturing, and in-industry research and development.


When you are not studying – or applying for fellowships- what do you do for fun?

IL: I love exploring the outdoors and taking photos of the gems I discover! I just came back from a backpacking trip in New Zealand. I enjoyed hopping around both the North and South Island and taking in the diverse geographical landscapes.

TG: I have a couple of jobs—I work in a creative space in Chicago called Lost Arts, which is run by Charles Adler (one of the founders of Kickstarter), and also at the UIC Innovation Center for BMW. I’m the outgoing president of the UIC IDSA chapter, so the last year has been a whirlwind of events and speaking to professionals, I’m looking forward to a couple of months off from writing emails! I try and take advantage of as many opportunities as possible, so with a group of friends, I entered a competition this semester called the White Space challenge, run by Northwestern University, where we designed a vibrator for mature women. I love to read and listen to podcasts, go to live music, and stand-up comedy. I also love new-media and interactive art and try to work on one or two pieces a year for fun and to stay practiced!


Stay tuned to the blog and @beoriginalusa on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram this summer to follow Irene and Tom during the 2017 Fellowship Program. They’ll share exclusive images from site visits to Bernhardt Design, Carnegie, Design Within Reach, Emeco, Flavor Paper, Herman Miller, Rich Brilliant Willing, and Vitra, and update on all they’re learning along the way.


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