New Internship Opportunity Broadens Alum’s Creative Legacy

August 1, 2022

During his tenure as an executive at New Jersey’s Tyco Toys, Lee Volpe BS ’69 (Industrial Design) shaped imaginative play-based experiences for countless children. Dubbed a true Renaissance man by his peers, he was the creative force behind hundreds of patents and brought countless much-loved products to the toy market in the 1980s and ’90s, including the Dino-Riders line of action figures and the Garfield phone, still sought by vintage collectors.

In addition to being a highly successful designer and inventor, Volpe was instrumental in landing licensing deals for Tyco with big names such as Jim Henson, Disney and Nickelodeon. Throughout portions of his design career, which spanned more than 40 years, Volpe remained a presence at the Philadelphia College of Art, now UArts, as a faculty member, leading Industrial Design classes for the college’s evening program.

Following his death in October 2020, his wife, Jolene Schwartz, hoped to find a way to honor Volpe’s legacy and vision. Rather than accumulate flowers from well-wishers in her home, Schwartz said in a recent interview, she asked donors to contribute to the Crayola Creative Arts/Lee Volpe Internship, an annual opportunity to support a UArts student’s creative pursuits through a paid internship at a toy company.

“Lee’s passion for fostering creativity was just above and beyond,” Schwartz said. “He just loved solving problems, whether that was creating a new product or teaching people how to do things. I just wanted to be able to keep that spirit alive.”

The first recipient of this new internship is rising senior Sean Gibson ’23 (Graphic Design), who has spent this summer working with Crayola, the Easton, Pennsylvania–based company recognized globally for its crayons, markers and other kid-friendly art-making supplies.

This internship has made me much more confident, and I’m ready to go out and start working.

Since joining Crayola’s creative design team—which handles everything from concepts to execution for the company’s toy line and family-focused attraction The Crayola Experience—Gibson has gained considerable real-world work experience. In just a short time, he has illustrated pages for Crayola’s coloring books, packaging for its main toy line, Scribble Scrubbies, and has even developed and pitched logo designs for a new line of art products.

“They’ve kept me extremely busy, and it’s great. I love it,” Gibson said. “[The team] involves me in nearly everything they do.”

Gibson was nominated for the internship by School of Design Dean Mark Tocchet, but landing it required Gibson to assemble a fully branded portfolio and résumé showcasing who he is as a designer and complete a professional interview with Crayola’s creative design manager. The internship is a prime opportunity for the school, Tocchet said, because the operations of Crayola’s robust in-house team reflect nearly every aspect of the school’s core instruction areas, from illustration to product design. Gibson also brings with him experience in interactive design and a keen interest in augmented reality—gained through experience at UArts’ Center for Immersive Media—two areas Tocchet says Crayola hopes to explore.

Though Gibson is unsure if kid-focused design work will be his future, he says he’s grateful for the experience and feels much more prepared for life after UArts. He even joked that he enjoyed working so much that he has had difficulty preparing to return for his senior year.

“This has made me less afraid of what’s out there. I’ve been asking myself, ‘What am I going to do after graduation?’ The career world just seems so scary,” Gibson said of his experience. “This internship has made me much more confident, and I’m ready to go out and start working. It’s so exciting and not as scary as I thought it was going to be.”