Faith Mamaradlo (C '21) starts our conversation off by emphasizing that at heart, she’s just a Philly girl who loves her houseplants—describing herself as “lowkey” while expressing disbelief in being featured as part of this year's Penn 10 for her many accomplishments.
The passion exuding from her wide smile as she talks about her deep devotion to cultivating community makes it easy to imagine how well loved she is in Penn’s design community and beyond. After all, she’s been the cofounder and co–chair of the inaugural Fine Arts and Design Advisory Board, a web design intern at the Sachs Program for Arts Innovation, a design coordinator at Penn Leads the Vote, and the executive director of Penn Student Design.
But for Faith, it’s never been about racking up an impressive list of leadership roles—it’s about community. When discussing her position as executive director of Penn Student Design, the importance of relationships to Faith becomes even more apparent. “I was trying to take as much initiative as possible to develop that community and find more people that love design … The experience was amazing."
However, she felt like there needed to be a next step in terms of fostering communication and togetherness among undergraduate designers at Penn, especially one that wasn’t centered around a business.
After discussions with Penn Director of Undergraduate Programs in Fine Arts and Design Matt Neff, Faith became one of the creators and co–chairs of the Fine Arts and Design Advisory Board. She highlighted how rewarding the process of creating something new was, saying, “Creating this board, creating an identity for this board, and setting it up for future classes of design and fine arts majors has been such a rewarding experience.”
While kick–starting the formation of the board was integral to her senior–year experience, Faith connects it back to the people, saying, “I felt like it also really aligned with design, because design is all about getting feedback and iterating. This board served as a way for students to have discussions about classes, how they liked being a design or fine arts major, and we would be the way for them to communicate those thoughts to the faculty.”
Aside from taking on the task of promoting community among undergraduate designers at Penn, Faith has also devoted her time to advocating for more opportunities for BIPOC designers—especially since she’s learned more about the foundations of the field. Faith discusses the importance of decolonizing and making design more accessible to all—a goal that has served as the impetus of her activism within the design sector at Penn through the Sachs Program for Arts Innovation. "I feel like the more you study design, the more you realize that it is [mostly] created by white standards or Western standards,” she says.
Faith applauds the Sachs Program for its mission to provide grants for artists across Penn regardless of interest or medium, as well as their initiatives that prioritize artists of color. As a Filipina designer, Faith prioritizes the diversification of design on both a personal and professional level: “I think that it’s important to encourage POC designers to speak up ... That’s ultimately how you reform the design field … just by accumulating these different perspectives from people of various backgrounds.”
It’s not just about the principle of diversity either, Faith notes, it’s about ensuring that designs don’t cause people of color more harm: “You hear about people designing pretty badly for POC communities, and it’s like, ‘Hey, if you maybe had one Black or POC designer on your team, then maybe you could avoid those controversies.’”
Diversity matters to Faith for a multitude of reasons, but it is her identity as a first–generation, low–income college student and a second–generation immigrant in particular that inspires her to work towards equity and inclusion in the design space and beyond. Faith is the daughter of two Filipino immigrant parents and witnessed the difficulties they faced firsthand.
Her father and brother lived in the Philippines for the first few years of her life, leaving her mother to raise Faith on her own, while she studied to be a medical technician and petitioned for the government to let Faith’s father and brother come to the United States.
Despite being born in San Diego and raised in Philadelphia, Faith notes that she has struggled with her identity at times—specifically in the context of whiteness being equated to "Americanness." However, her sense of belonging grew as she aged, and she credits having more experiences with other second–generation and first–generation immigrants as having made her more proud of her story.
Towards the end of our conversation, we segue into an inevitable topic affecting all members of the Class of 2021: having your last year and a half of school engulfed by the COVID–19 pandemic.
Faith spent the early days of lockdown in West Philadelphia, away from her parents who live in the northeast area of the city. She briefly touches on the things she’s missed, before going into the powerful things she’s learned about herself over the course of the pandemic.
“I deactivated all of my social media ... I was not existing in that digital space, just focusing on the physical realm, even though I was indoors the whole time,” Faith says. We delve into the funny paradox of her work in design being so digitally centered and her hesitance to return to social media after over a year of being off of it.
But Faith isn’t some stoic saint—even she likes to flex every now and then—so she makes sure to add that she’s planning on reactivating her Instagram to post her graduation photos.
As for what’s next for Faith after posting those graduation photos, she braces herself, and excitedly tells me that she’s going to be focusing more on personal projects. But these aren’t just any personal projects. Faith is working on developing a social media app that is centered around accessibility for people who are blind or visually impaired, saying, “It’s kinda like Clubhouse, except more social and less professional.”
At the end of the day, Faith feels a lot like the rest of us: tired of planning for a future that’s becoming increasingly unpredictable. She’s ready to tackle the future, but she's doing so on her own terms.