The independent strategy and design company COLLINS is proving the value of its robust internship program, reinforcing its commitment to DEI, and serving as a model for how to foster unique, young talent from within by welcoming Nicole Cousins as Associate Designer.
Cousins’s hiring marks a natural progression for the Brooklyn native, who first interned at COLLINS in 2017 as part of its program for high school designers. She then took on second and third internships at the company while studying at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), from which she graduated in 2020.
According to Cousins, the initial design internship at COLLINS provided an ideal springboard to nurture her innate talents, which she actually displayed before high school by using traditional media to craft book covers for writers she admired. “I saw the internship as an opportunity to learn more about art and design,” Cousins says. “Most of the mediums I worked with before were about personal expression, primarily consisting of drawing in charcoal and painting with acrylics. I’ve always wanted to try digital art, and it was through that work in the design internship that I realized that I could also help others communicate their ideas and ambitions through design. And I believe that that is where real power and influence can be.”
Under the tutelage of the COLLINS team, including Design Director Megan Bowker, Cousins developed a greater understanding as an intern of just how powerful and all-encompassing design can be. “One of the things I noticed when interning at COLLINS was the fact that design takes many forms,” she notes. “It covers multiple creative mediums like photography, digital graphics and interfaces, film and architecture – as well as new ways to think, collaborate and create. Being a designer lets you become a jack of all trades while also becoming a master of one.”
During her multifaceted internship at COLLINS, Cousins worked on memorable projects for Target and its “More than Magic” brand. In the process, she not only gained experience in customer audits, trend and market research, concepting, sketching and photography, but was able to showcase her colorful, uplifting approach to design, which can actually be traced back to her Flatbush, Brooklyn upbringing. Inspired by the culture, people, and trends around her, Cousins was showcasing her creativity early on with ideas that focused on the joy of the African diaspora and creating new ways of seeing the Black community. “Whether it be about music, clothing, or language, I wanted to make work about it,” she recalls. “I focused specifically on Black joy. Why do we create? Do we truly enjoy it, and what does this say about our culture? Our culture is what brings us contentment.”
Cousins hopes to bring that same joy and refreshing perspective to her new Associate Designer role. “I tend to be drawn to expressive, colorful imagery and illustrations, and have come to the realization that I design to not only communicate meaningful ideas but to bring happiness,” she says.
It was Cousins’s infectious, upbeat nature that initially attracted COLLINS’ leadership before she even became an intern. “Nicole was a gifted artist in high school, a strong conceptual thinker who approached each project with curiosity and enthusiasm,” says the company’s Director of Talent Yocasta Lachapelle. “For us, her talent was obvious. We just had to wait and see if she’d apply to our program.”
Cousins joining COLLINS not only signifies the culmination of a long-standing, fruitful relationship, but the second time the company has brought on a high school intern into a full-time role. In essence, her hiring demonstrates the ongoing benefits of the company’s internship programs, which run parallel for high school and college students and are gradually evolving into remote and hybrid models, as has become the norm in the creative workforce.
Just as importantly, however, Lachapelle says Cousins coming aboard highlights COLLINS’ continued investment in next-generation talent and DEI initiatives. “I hope it reflects the tremendous value of a sustained long-term commitment to DEI,” she says. “Diversity is not a quick fix; to tackle systemic challenges, we must provide enduring systemic support. We’re honored to continue to invest in, and nurture, the next generation of designers and creative leaders.”
Brian Collins, Chief Creative Officer, agreed and added a point, “Here’s the real secret and real value we’ve all gained over the last seven years of this program: we’ve learned geometrically more from Nicole and her fellow interns than they’ve ever learned from us. It’s brought us vital new energy and broader perspectives we’d otherwise never have.”
Collins furthered, “To have Nicole join our full time staff was a full-circle moment, sure. But it is also an affirmation that programs like this must be long-term commitments. In this case, five years. To support students eager to build a creative career, it’s no quick, one time, one summer fix. It’s playing and supporting a long game with them over years. And, look – it works!”