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Penina Acayo Laker

Penina Acayo Laker joined Washington University in 2015. She focuses on design as integral to addressing systemic issues in public health and racial inequity in St. Louis and in global contexts. In 2021, Laker launched the Health Communication Design Studio, a design collective and creative think tank addressing pressing public health issues. Laker and the HCDS have been co-investigators on projects with the Brown School’s Health Communication Research Laboratory that have received funding from the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control in support of equitable COVID-19 outcomes for racially diverse communities in St. Louis. Funded initiatives include iHeard St. Louis, the nation’s first health monitoring and response system which aims to build health knowledge in communities and trust in science, the COVID-19 Research Hub to increase participation among African Americans in COVID studies, and a range of materials designed to increase access to vaccinations and self-tests for vulnerable populations. Several of these projects have been recognized nationally by Graphic Design USA and Design Incubation. Laker has also published and spoken widely, most recently as the keynote speaker at the Sixth Workshop for Visualization in Communication in Melbourne, Australia. She is co-editor of The Black Experience in Design: Identity, Expression & Reflection (2022), an anthology of narratives from black designers. The first book of its kind in the graphic design field, it has received critical acclaim, including being named one of the “Best Design Books of 2022” by Fast Company.

Laker teaches in the Sam Fox School’s communication design program and is the founding faculty member of the school’s creative practice for social change minor. She holds affiliate roles at the Institute for Public Health and Brown School’s International Center for Child Health and Development. She also regularly collaborates across the university, receiving awards from the McDonnell International Scholars Academy, the Africa Initiative, and the Divided City to support work around mental health stigma and public transit equity, among other projects.

Laker holds an MFA in Visual Communication Design from Kent State University and a bachelor’s degree in art from Goshen College.

Work by Penina Acayo Laker