Alumnus Nick Cook designs his way around Durham

Cook, a 2015 Elon graduate and 2018 graduate of the university's Interactive Media program, has found success as a graphic designer based in Durham.

For Nick Cook’15 G’18, Elon is a family affair.

Cook’s grandmother Kay Elder ’60 was a Town of Elon resident and Cook grew up traveling from his hometown of Greensboro to visit. “As a kid, I would visit her and spend time on campus,” Cook says. “I was exposed to Elon at a young age and knew it was where I wanted to go to school. That personal connection to Elon deepened my experience as a student and now, as an alum.”

Nick Cook’15 G’18 and wife Conner Cook ’15 with dog Charlie.

While his family ties initially connected him to Elon, his academic and extracurricular experiences convinced him to stay. “The Elon way is being busy and I loved being involved in various facets of student life,” he says.

At Elon he was an admissions tour guide and active member of Delta Upsilon fraternity, New Student Orientation, Vital Signs a cappella group and the scenic design department. Through Vital Signs, Cook began the annual Make-a-Wish fundraising concert that remains an on-campus tradition. He also met his now-wife, Conner, at Elon.

To prepare for life after graduation, Cook took advantage of Elon’s resources. “Elon has so many resources for students and during my time in undergrad and grad school, I tried to take advantage of as many of them as possible,” he says. Cook visited the Student Professional Development Center frequently for mock interviews and resume workshops as well as to locate on-campus job opportunities that bolstered his resume.

By the time graduation rolled around, Cook had still not had enough of Elon. So, after graduating with a BFA in theatre arts and a minor in strategic communications, he became an admission counselor for the Office of Admissions. “It was a great first job out of school as I got to travel the country, share my Elon experience and help high schoolers on their journey,” he says. “I’ve always been an artist, and it wasn’t until grad school that I realized I wanted to pursue a career path that fueled my creativity.”

Cook ’15 G’18 performing with acapella group Vital Signs while a student.

To pursue this dream, Cook enrolled in Elon’s Interactive Media graduate program with a focus on graphic design. “It was an intense 10 months, but I walked away with so much knowledge and experience and landed at my dream ad agency, McKinney, in Durham,” he says.

Cook loved his time at McKinney on the new business team. “It was a grind, but it was a lot of fun, and I took a lot away from that experience,” he says. After a brief stint at another agency, Cook decided it was time to fly solo.

“Freelancers will often say one of the biggest ‘perks’ is creating your own schedule,” he jokes. But for Cook, freelancing is all about the people.

“I decided to ultimately pursue freelance to focus more on clients I wanted to work with in areas of design that I wanted to work in,” he says. “I believe the best part of freelance is getting to work with a wide variety of clients and do work that I am passionate about with people I care about.”

As a freelancer, Cook does everything from branding and custom illustrations to murals and large-scale art installations.

Cook ’15 G’18 with grandmother and Elon resident Kay Elder ’60 at his Elon graduation.

Each job looks different because of variables like scope, audience and logistics. But Cook is happy to do it all for Durham. “I love my city of Durham, N.C., and calling it home,” he says. “It’s the people in Durham that make it such a special place and having the opportunity to partner with local businesses and provide my design services… is why I do what I do.”

According to Cook, nothing is more rewarding than seeing his work out in the wild. “I have been lucky enough to design logos, develop brand campaigns, create custom illustrations, and paint murals in and around Durham,” he says. “When I see a sticker I designed on someone’s water bottle or go to my local running store and see the mural I painted, it’s an incredible feeling knowing I was able to give back to my community in a small but impactful way.”

For Elon students looking to follow a similar trajectory, “Jump in and give it all you got,” he advises. “It’s ok to dip your toe in a career opportunity and pivot after a little while if it’s time to try something else out. No matter what opportunity you are pursuing, be a sponge and soak it all up.”

Cook remains grateful for and engaged at Elon. “My wife [Conner Cook’15] and I had a baby boy in late January, and we couldn’t be more excited for his arrival,” he says. “We can’t wait to take him on his first visit to campus!”