Assistant Professor, Communication Design, College of Art, Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts
To have a teacher who not only provides a thorough educational experience, but goes above and beyond to guide and individually connect with each person involved, is a once in a lifetime experience. Students of Penina Laker can proudly say that they have had just that. Since arriving in St. Louis in 2015, Penina has brought meaningful projects to the Washington University campus and broader St. Louis community that have made lasting change.
Penina is a compassionate and devoted professor. By creating meaningful courses and being a caring resource and leader, Penina paves the way for Washington University students to learn with and about St. Louis. Two such courses she has developed are “You Are Here: Engaging St. Louis Racial History Through Sites + Stories” and “Law, Race, and Design: Examining the St. Louis Story.” In all of her teaching, Penina guides her students in the process of creating a shared ethic for socially engaged practices with a deep consideration for the needs of those involved, their varying perspectives, and their complex socio-cultural relationships. In doing so, Penina ensures that before engaging with a community, students understand the local contexts and positions of each actor involved.
Beyond the Washington University campus, Penina has made intentional strides to immerse herself and others in the St. Louis community. Using her skills in design and research, Penina has long been interested in the intersections of racial inequities, health, and communication and how she can help those most affected by such factors. Penina participated in a neighborhood-based Community Arts Training Fellowship run by the Regional Arts Commission. She individually sought to complete this intensive 5-month program beyond her faculty duties to build deeper relationships in the St. Louis community and understand where she could contribute. Penina also served as an interface between community groups and the project team for Mobility For All by All (MFABA). This project focused on providing equitable access and interests to the surrounding residents of the Northside/Southside Metrolink expansion.
Penina has continuously shown that she involves herself in projects not for her own benefit, but more for the benefit of the students, organizations, and broader community. All of Penina’s nominators mentioned her deep investment in individuals and her selfless service in each and every one of her interactions. As one of her nominators attests, “Penina leads with love. She emanates humanity through her humor as well as her sincerity.” It is not just the work she does, but how she executes it that makes all the difference.