When Kevin Camelo Bonilla ’21 was a young boy, his mother taught him an important lesson about thoughtfulness toward others. “She always told me to live my life in color, meaning always be considerate of everyone around me and in the work that I do,” he says. “I'm a designer by nature, and that requires me to think about the human who is interacting with my designs on their screen.”
That’s a lesson Camelo Bonilla brought with him when he came to Syracuse University from his home in Las Vegas, Nevada. He says he’s grown in ways that allow him to appreciate the education he’s been given, and also to provide similar education to others.
Camelo Bonilla is working toward a dual degree in graphic design from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and in information management and technology from the School of Information Studies (iSchool). He can trace his interest in computers back to when he was about 3 years old, when he taught himself to play tycoon games like SimCity.
Now in his senior year, he’s looking forward to a career in graphic design and development where his work can make an impact on others.
From Sin City to Salt City
Camelo Bonilla’s parents emigrated from Colombia before he was born, and they shared a house in Las Vegas with 11 other people. “My parents risked their lives coming here to make the most out of our lives. The fact that they even considered sending their child all the way across the country to get an education is monumental,” he says.
He had never heard of Syracuse University when his guidance counselor suggested he apply to the school. Originally interested in advertising, Camelo Bonilla was drawn to the number of advertising awards Syracuse students were winning.
He was accepted through early decision, and upon arriving he explored the resources the Newhouse School offered. “Coming to Syracuse, I knew I wanted to produce something. Now I had all these resources at my disposal, like the computer labs and knowledgeable professors. It was awesome.”
Meaningful Internships and a Change of Course
During his sophomore year, Camelo Bonilla mentored students with disabilities through the University’s InclusiveU program. The experience inspired him to focus his career goals on making design an accessible medium, prompting him to switch majors. Mentoring also helped him give more support to his sister, who has autism.
“There’s a lot of thought that goes into making design accessible in terms of populations and functionality. I want to establish a design agency someday that focuses on accessible functionality.” He’s appreciative that his classes in both Newhouse and the iSchool are teaching him how to use design to understand human patterns and how people consume information to interact with the world around them.
Through work and internships at The Daily Orange and AMC television network, Camelo Bonilla learned the importance of asking questions and brainstorming, and he gained skills in designing for mass audiences. But it was his internship as a UX designer at Our Ability —a company that collaborates with businesses to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities—that gave him his first hands-on tactical experience in designing for accessibility.
Among the projects he developed for Our Ability is a chatbot system that guides people through the job application process. His work was made possible through a collaboration between Our Ability and the iSchool’s iConsult Collaborative , which provides experience for students through client projects involving digital transformation. Students participating in iConsult form project teams to help real-world clients integrate digital technology into their organizations.
For the chatbot system, Camelo Bonilla helped design visuals and text that lead individuals through the process. He conducted research to determine which specific types of chatbot verbiage would be most helpful to people completing job applications, and then translated that research into a design that would work for the front-end developers.
The faculty have always told me to think about how we can go deeper to solve complex issues. Each idea stems from the people I work with.
Camelo Bonilla is grateful that his classes not only give him the chance to work on projects that provide valuable practical experience but also inspire him to step out of his comfort zone and think outside the box. One such project was designing web and social media pieces to support the COVID-19 reporting of the Mail & Guardian , a newspaper based in Johannesburg, South Africa.
“The faculty have always told me to think about how we can go deeper to solve complex issues,” he says. “Each idea stems from the people I work with. I could never say something was solely my idea because it's a factor of everybody contributing.”
Camelo Bonilla now finds himself on the receiving end of honors as a student at Syracuse University. He’s been named a 2020 Student to Watch by Graphic Design USA, took second place in Standalone Multimedia from the MSUSND Student Design Competition, won third place for Best Online Main Page at the CMA Pinnacle Awards 2020, and received Honorable Mention from Graphis New Talent 2020.
A Transformative Experience Through Mentoring
Camelo Bonilla cites his work with InclusiveU as being among his most meaningful college experiences. “Being a peer mentor has transformed my life,” he says.
He’s mentored for two years and currently serves as a residential mentor for InclusiveU, supporting 10 students living in residence halls by assisting them with daily needs like navigating classes and understanding relationships, bolstering their social environments, and just being their friend. “Let me tell you, it has been a fun ride,” he says. “I know I’m going to be sad once I leave here, and it’s because of these students.”
Every day he gets texts from the students just to say good morning and good night. These bonds remind him why he’s on this particular career path. “This is why I want to be someone who designs for accessibility, and not just for the sake of designing,” he says.
With graduation in sight, Camelo Bonilla is starting to apply for jobs. He intends to head back west once he graduates but plans to continue mentoring and keep in touch with these students. “Even if I’m not in a mentorship role anymore, I still feel like I’m providing some value in their lives. Being a mentor is caring for somebody else. As long as I’m mentoring, I’m being a friend. I want to be a friend in the future.”