Leo Burnett Pilots Creative Boot Camp at Chicago State University

zoom meeting

In partnership with Marcus Graham Project, creative executives forge a fresh pathway for underrepresented talent; enrolled students secure internships within Publicis Groupe

June 17, 2021

CHICAGO, IL – Five students from Chicago State University, Illinois’ sole four-year Predominantly Black Institution for higher education, began summer internships this week across Publicis Groupe, including at Leo Burnett Chicago, Arc Worldwide, and ThePub; and one of their classmates has accepted a full-time position at Publicis Health Media. The connection is the culmination of a decades-long partnership and pro bono work through the Pencil Project, most recently with a boot camp creative curriculum during the Spring semester, with support from Marcus Graham Project.


“This boot camp provided a proxy of what it’s like to work at an ad agency – not just land the job,” explains Aki Spicer, Chief Strategy Officer for Leo Burnett. “We’ve made great strides with recruitment, but retention of diverse talent requires industry role models.”

As Aki explains the “radical empathy” that drives the agency’s work, he points to the gift of time and talent in addition to financial support – an “innovation of donation” with hands-on mentorship from creative leads.

“Chicago State University recognizes the power of workplace experiences, striving to secure experiential learning opportunities for all our students that complements lessons from the classroom,” said Dr. Leslie Roundtree, Interim Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs. “Leo Burnett and the Marcus Graham Project are exemplary partners who are at the cutting edge of providing meaningful learning experiences that translate into paid internship and career opportunities.”

Matthew Weiner, SVP, Group Creative Director at Arc Worldwide and a program lead on the boot camp, marvels at the next generation of creative talent. “Their technical abilities are off the chart, and they are ready to make it work,” referencing busy students who were not necessarily advertising majors but did double duty at their day jobs to engage with the curriculum and excel. The Boot Camp included Jameelah Hargrove, Denae Hill, Ryonn Gloster, Archie Shaw, and Malcolm Conyers, who are Media Arts majors in the Department of Communications, Media Arts & Theatre at CSU. Students with business majors also participated in the Boot Camp.

According to Matthew and his co-leads, the first step was to step back and simplify industry jargon while decoding corporate constructs for the students. Weekly lesson plans covered the creative process in full, from brief writing to pitching and measuring results.

Mary Daniels is the Associate Provost for Academic Innovation and Strategic Initiatives at CSU, where she is tasked with pushing curricula to meet industry standards while also drawing from the strength of students’ lived experiences.  “Students not only applied skills from the classroom on a project much like the challenges they will encounter in their professional work but also created a final project that was stronger because they drew on their diverse lived experiences. This project is already resulting in meaningful progress in expanding equity in the pathway from higher education to the workforce.”

Lisa Ivy, VP, Global Strategy Director at Leo Burnett and a lifelong Chicagoan, proudly supports this critical resource for students of all ages who may not take the traditional path into advertising via portfolio school and specialized training. She and her team were brought into the partnership originally for brand identity, though her goal is for the students to ultimately lead branding in-house.

“The boot camp was a beta. This is just the beginning,” she vows, with more updates to come for Fall 2021 and beyond.