From its inception, the humble, unassuming big black pencil has been a symbol of Leo Burnett’s pursuit of bold, daring thought. The belief is that when fearless creativity meets intelligent thinking, a pencil can become a powerful tool. And so, the Pencil Project was born—an opportunity to provide non-traditional pathways for the next generation of underrepresented creators with mentorship, scholarship opportunities and career pathing.

Championed collectively across Leo Burnett and Arc Worldwide, and selflessly powered by industry volunteers and educators, what began as an optional 2-week creative boot camp has flourished into a 6-credit course at Chicago State University (CSU), Illinois’ only predominantly black college. In recognition of the Pencil Project's impact, CSU made the course a requirement for some majors. “For many of our students, the unknown can be so scary that they might not fully dive into a field,” says Derek Dow, professor at CSU. “The Pencil Project takes some of the mystery away and shows them that the work can be challenging, fun and exciting.”

This year’s class received more hands-on experience than ever before, giving students a holistic, 360 view of how campaigns come to life. Students worked together for 10 weeks on everything from strategy development to creative execution, resulting in campaigns that addressed mental health among the city’s youth. 

“We wanted the project to feel motivating for students, and mental health is a leading cause to why students drop out of college.” says Renee Martin, Senior Vice President, Creative Director at Arc Worldwide. “This really solidified for our students that advertising can make a real impact and help solve real issues in the world.”

Additionally, eight graduates were awarded a collective $25,000 of scholarships to help advance their education and careers, and five graduates were offered creative internships within Leo Burnett. 

“Giving students the exposure to something out of their comfort zones changes their lives forever,” says Dow. “When I was a student, we didn’t have these types of opportunities. It’s a blessing to be a part of helping usher that in.”


Since the Pencil Projects Trust Fund’s inception, Leo Burnett has funded over $50,000 dollars of scholarships for aspiring creative talent. Learn more here.

To donate, visit The Pencil Project Fund

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