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How a Scholarship Transformed Sofia Merino-Arzoz’s Art and Design Practice

Growing up in Mexico City, Sofia Merino-Arzoz (BFA 2024) fell in love with design and its endless possibilities after being tasked to create a restaurant for a class in middle school. From designing a tasting menu and uniforms to building a scaled model of the restaurant out of colored pencils, she was ecstatic to see her vision realized. Merino-Arzoz’s fascination with problem-solving and the interdisciplinary nature of visual communications guided her to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC).

At SAIC, Merino-Arzoz quickly made a name for herself for her elegant work that combines elements of drawing, typography, and digital design. Merino-Arzoz approaches each of her visual communication design (VCD) projects as a unique challenge, such as her poster design for a lecture on Kafka’s Metamorphosis that manipulates the text into the shape of an abstract bug. After her first year at SAIC, she was awarded the Justyna Palka Memorial Scholarship in 2023.

“It was so exciting,” she said. “To feel recognized in this way, to really feel like I had achieved something and I had really worked for it.”

a black and green poster with text on it hangs against a white wall
Merino-Arzoz designed this Franz Kafka poster.

Every year, the Justyna Palka Memorial Scholarship is awarded to one undergraduate student studying VCD in their third year of school. The student is nominated by faculty members and receives both partially funded tuition and the opportunity to work at international advertising company Ogilvy as a summer intern.

Merino-Arzoz began her design education at the Centro de Diseño, Cine y Televisión in Mexico City, where she focused on visual communication. After two years, Merino-Arzoz craved more liberal arts classes. She transferred to SAIC in January 2022, where she was able to dive into SAIC’s wide array of unique and multifaceted offerings.

“I really wanted to be able to pick and choose exactly what I wanted and I knew that SAIC had so many niche classes,” Merino-Arzoz said. “Right now, I’m doing an art history class on art house cinema.”

two posters side-by-side. One is the "Hyde Park Flea" with household objects in grey, purple, and red floating in the background. One reads "Catwalk Concert" with a neon purple and pink abstract background.
Two posters Merino-Arzoz designed at her job with the Hyde Park Art Center.

The Justyna Palka Memorial Scholarship was established in 2011 to honor the late Justyna Palka, who received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from SAIC in 2009. Palka was an exceptional designer known for her experimental work in visual communications and infectious spirit; she worked as an art director for Ogilvy after graduation. Palka passed away in 2011, and her family wanted to continue her legacy by providing opportunities to young designers at SAIC.

Although Merino-Arzoz never had the opportunity to meet Palka, she learned about her legacy through Palka’s family, coworkers, and professors. “She was always considered super creative and super intelligent,” said Merino-Arzoz. “And even at school, she tried to experiment with, not just in VisCom, but also other mediums.”

A woman stands wearing a cropped white vest and white pants poses in front of a sign that says "Ogilvy"
Merino-Arzoz on her last day at her Ogilvy internship. 

This scholarship allowed Merino-Arzoz to grow as a designer through her classes at SAIC. It also allowed her to gain real-life experience through the Ogilvy internship program. There, Merino-Arozoz was able to assist with multiple clients and receive invaluable mentorship from working designers at the Ogilvy 485 team. Many of her projects focused on internal social media needs, pro-bono brand identities, and large advertising campaigns.

“I got to see what it's like to work in a place with never-ending creativity, and I increased my professionalism a lot. It’s definitely helped me now in my job as well,” said Merino-Arzoz. “It really opened my eyes to new possibilities and made me reflect on who I am as a designer. It was exciting to see what the future can hold.”

Thanks to the Justyna Palka Memorial Scholarship, Merino-Arzoz has been able to continue experimenting in a variety of mediums, including graphic design and film. She is currently a designer for the Hyde Park Art Center, and after graduation, she hopes to bring that same creativity that sparked doing scale models as a child to projects that have a positive social impact.