Leslie Suggs navigates career crossroads

When one door closes, another one opens—or so the saying goes. For young adults just starting to find their way into the world, this can be a challenge. Students always have the choice of either staring at the closed door or searching for opportunities that may push them toward a brighter, happier and more fulfilling future.

Leslie Suggs is a 2005 Sam Houston State University graduate with an eye for art and a heart for others. With a diverse set of interests and skills, she could have chosen to serve in a variety of fields. Her ceaseless desire to improve herself only expanded those horizons. As a journalism major and photography minor, however, her interests and skillsets intersected in the realm of graphic design.

Still, she did not arrive at that decision immediately. After considering careers as a history teacher, a massage therapist and a magazine editor, she finally found a field that catered to her desire for change, maneuverability and the freedom to create. Little did she know, however, that she would not only be changing majors, but changing schools.

“[Texas A&M University was] in the midst of a lot of structural changes in the liberal arts department, and journalism just happened to be one of the things that got cut during my freshman year,” Suggs said. “That ended up being a good thing because it forced me to look at other opportunities, specifically at Sam.”

Included in those opportunities was the chance to expand upon her knowledge of photography, which had been a hobby of hers but not something she considered pursuing full-time until she transferred. In fact, it was the first photography class required for her major that she credits with offering her a new perspective on the world.

This cross-section of journalism and photography is where graphic design flourishes, but it was actually her heart for others that wedged her foot through that door. Her church family at Oak Ridge Baptist Church was going through a time of turmoil: toxic mold forced them to tear down their building, and they lost a lot of their staff. The congregation gathered in local schools for close to 10 years until it was able to rebuild in 2009. For part of that time, Suggs made herself useful by creating background slides for the music and sermons.

Her efforts there provided her with some, but not all, of the experience required for the next job in her sights. By then, she was working at a children’s charity, but she knew from the start that this would not be permanent. Her goal was to land a position in the graphics department of the Second Baptist Church of Houston, which by the time she was interviewed for the position, she had been attending the church for six months.

“It got down to me and one other person, and they told me I didn’t have enough experience, and I didn’t know Illustrator well enough,” Suggs said. “So I went back to the children’s charity and was like, ‘Hey, we should get Illustrator,’ which we legitimately needed, but it was also an opportunity for me to teach myself.”

Two years later, she returned to interview again. But around that same time, Drew Daniels, a friend from a Bible study at Second Baptist, offered her an alternative. As a fellow designer, he was starting his own company and wanted her involved in the start-up. However, his plans were still in their infancy. Suggs was offered and accepted the position at Second, and while Daniels encouraged her goals, he kept in touch, certain that he would someday hire her.

“At first, I thought it was just a grand, sweeping gesture, but he actually meant it,” Suggs said. “There’s something of value when people mean what they say.”

It was not until four years later that Suggs finally took him up on his offer. Creative Element is now an established, successful graphic design company that does a little bit of everything – logos, branding, flyers, brochures, business cards and websites – and while they take in clients from all domains, they love working with churches, nonprofits and businesses that are mission-minded.

Suggs specializes in print journalism, so her focus lies in branding, meaning that she creates distinctive designs to set companies apart from others in their field.

“Branding…is more about the people that you’re branding and the audience that you’re branding for rather than just, ‘Hey, that’s a cool logo,'” Suggs said. “Every designer has a specific style of things that they like to do, but I almost don’t want somebody to know by looking at a piece that I have done it because, if they’re seeing me and not the client, then I haven’t done my job.”

Goodwill Industries, Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star and Making It Better have all come to the four-member team at Creative Element, where every decision made is for the team and their clients. Daniels often asks them what they want to be working on and sets reasonable goals to foster that business, so the environment constantly morphs and expands.

Another one of the benefits of working in a small, close-knit environment is that it never grows boring. It’s colorful, surprising, elegant, interactive and the work makes an impact.

“I guess more than anything is just follow whatever your passion is,“ Suggs said. “Figure out what makes you happy, and try to make a career doing that. And if you can’t make a career doing that, then find a career that will help you do that on the side, because if you lose an element of whatever you’re passionate about, then what are you doing?”

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