Jonai Gibson-Selix awarded 2021 AIGA Philadelphia Scholarship

AIGA Philadelphia is proud to announce the recipient of the 2021 AIGA Philadelphia Scholarship, Jonai Gibson-Selix, a junior at University of the Arts majoring in graphic design.

The AIGA Philadelphia Scholarship has been established as an annual scholarship program that supports local Philadelphia-area graphic design students through the award of financial assistance to pursue their education. With this scholarship we hope to build upon the foundation of community evident in the Philadelphia Chapter by providing a young designer the opportunity to share their vision with the world. The recipient is chosen on the merits of their application and demonstration of need.

Learn more about Jonai below:


Jonai Gibson-Selix is a visual designer and photographer based in Philadelphia, PA. She has developed a creative practice of integrating these media to curate and archive the visual identities of underrepresented communities, as illustrated in projects such as RISE: Philadelphia, a collaborative photo book that captures the local Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. She currently studies Graphic Design at the University of the Arts, Philadelphia, and is the Art Director for Tessera Arts Collective, Philadelphia.

What I have learned:

In May 2022, I will be graduating from the University of the Arts with a BFA in graphic design at 27 years old. That means the last time I turned my tassel will have been 10 years ago. Through this very long journey to my finish line, I’ve learned three valuable lessons that I’d like to pass on to whoever is reading this:

1. Do life at your own pace. When I went to college directly after high school, I was unclear about what path I wanted to take and I was unhappy with the school I was at. I left after a year and a half and returned home with debt and a sense of defeat, but I found solace in art. Reconnecting with drawing and living in the incredibly creative city of Philadelphia introduced me to a world that brought me a creative community and exposure in local art shows. Eventually, my retail job at Vans on Walnut St. would reopen the idea of going back to school to pursue a creative career because they had a partnership with the Laguna College of Art + Design. That was the moment when I decided that I was ready to return to school to learn graphic design. I applied to any and every arts college for 2 years, and I finally received an acceptance letter at 22 years old.

2. Advocate for yourself. Every year that I’ve attended UArts has been riddled with stress in my personal life, but being upfront with my professors and administration and asking for what I need has gotten me through. My first year, I was broke. I lost hours at work to attend my classes full-time and spent many of my days trying to decide between paying my tuition or paying my electric bills. So I met with the President of Financial Services to express my need for additional aid, and we agreed on some terms that allowed that to happen. Throughout my second year, my grandfather fell sick and I became his primary caregiver. This meant I sometimes had to miss or be late to class to be present for his appointments, take care of my grandparents’ home, be of emotional support to them, and eventually, plan his funeral. Sitting down with each of my professors to inform them of what was going on in my life outside of the classroom granted me a little extra time to get my work done if needed without penalty. And finally, in my third year, COVID-19 happened, and I along with every other student struggled to adjust to a new and unanticipated way of learning on-screen. But proposing new learning methods to my professors such as submitting A/V responses instead of written responses, or allowing us to work independently and do brief check-ins rather than sitting on screen for 6-hour studio courses, allowed for an easier transition.

3. Never be silent or silenced *Oprah voice*. My radical politics receive mixed reviews out in the world, so of course they receive heated debates in the classroom. This past semester, I had the incredible opportunity to study abroad at the Paris College of Art in Paris, France. I have learned both prior to and during my time here, France does not address race in the same way as America. France holds equality as one of its three greatest values and has been satisfied with that, while (some) Americans continue to reach for equity, so I wasn’t quite sure how my work would be received in Paris. The content of my work through my design education has centered around equity for marginalized peoples, and while my choice to explore these ideas in the classroom have never been challenged, I have been asked if this “type” of portfolio will be attractive in the professional design field past “this era.” But I’d say that my work and the opportunities I’ve been presented with speaks to the fact that my portfolio is one of skill, creativity, and socio-political dialogue, and that designing for justice will never get old because it is not a trend for me or the entities that I would want to align myself with.

While my story will be different from most students or professionals who take the time to read this, these 3 principles will always be useful when navigating life no matter who carries them. I hope they inspire you!

What inspires you about the field of Graphic Design?

The history of graphic design, and learning the ways tools of communication have evolved functionally and aesthetically over time is the most inspiring feat of graphic design. Its history proves that there is room for growth and iteration of the design foundations, practices, and pedagogies that inform our world today.

What are your professional goals upon graduation?

With all of the time I’ll be afforded upon graduating, I will spend it developing my own design studio that services socially-driven businesses and non-profit organizations. Additionally, I will continue my position as the Art Director of local arts org, Tessera Arts Collective!

2021 AIGA Philadelphia Scholarship Judges

Lisa Babb 
Faculty, Georgia Institute of Technology 
Director of Programs for the STEAM Truck

Lisa Babb comes from a rich history of activism and social progress through engaging citizens. She has been a systems-based Graphic Designer for more than twenty years and served in Graphic Design education at the collegiate level for nineteen years. Having both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in Graphic Design, Lisa credits Graphic Design for giving her a platform to create change in her life and others. Within design education specifically, she has built a Graphic Design department from the ground up and always makes a point of teaching in places that encourage diversity in demographics, ideologies, and models. Living by the mantra, “if you want a better world, make one,” she honestly believes that design is one of the few things that can defeat habits, for better or for worse. Currently, she teaches at Georgia Tech and proudly serves as the Director of Programs for the STEAM Truck to build stronger communities and champion education reform. Lisa is from Brooklyn (even before it became the brand that it is now) and has lived in Atlanta for thirteen years.

Lee-Sean Huang
Design Education Manager
AIGA, the professional association for design

Foossa, Co-Founder

Lee-Sean Huang is a designer and an educator. He is the Design Education Manager at AIGA National, where he supports the Design Educators Community, and produces and hosts a range of webinars, podcasts, and livestreams. He also co-founded Foossa, a creative consultancy focused on community-centered design, social innovation, and futurecasting. He has taught courses at New York University, the Parsons School of Design, and the School of Visual Arts. Lee-Sean earned a bachelors in Government from Harvard and a masters in Interactive Telecommunications from NYU. 

By aigaphiladelphia
Published May 21, 2021