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Vida Cornelious

Vida Cornelious

Group creative director | The Walt Disney Co. | Class of 1994

Who on campus gets the credit for helping mold the future group creative director of the Walt Disney Company?

It’s a two-part answer, says Vida Cornelious (MS ’94, advertising).

For one there’s Cele Otnes, “a great mentor and guilding force for me,” Cornelious says from Los Angeles.

“I was her graduate assistant and I taught the Advertising 101 course for sophomores under her guidance. It was a tad harrowing for me at first, as I had to teach myself the course before I could accurately lead the lab section of the class three times a week.

“But Cele gave me the freedom and trust to shape the class and lectures in the best way that worked for me. She was always super supportive, while still encouraging me to work independently — grading papers and administering the exams. I also assisted her in collecting data for her own research projects.

“To make sure I had a little cash in my pocket, she helped me land a part-time job in the computer lab. A real blessing because for the full two years of my program, that job gave me unlimited access to the latest Mac technology and all the basement vendors machines in Gregory Hall. Needless to say, I perfected 1, my portfolio and 2, the art of getting multiple bags of chips to drop from the machine with a swift kick.

“She was an amazing sounding board and mentor when it was time to apply for internships. She made sure I was exposed to visiting lecturers and post-grand Advertising professional organizations.

“She wrote recommendations for me when I applied for full-time positions at agencies.

“And although it has been over 15 years since I was her student, I still feel I can reach out to her anytime. Well, Facebook helps with that too.

“I thank Cele for being a professors that made a profound impact on who I am and who I’ve had the strength to become.”

Also on Cornelious’ most impactful short list: Peter Sheldon, who at the time was a grad assistant.

“Peter was an awesome agency copywriter turned doctoral candidate that joined the U of I program, and was my Creative Portfolio class instructor,” she says.

“He was the real deal. Someone we all aspired to be one day — well, once we got our ‘books’ together. And according to him, our books would never really, ever be together. It would be a work in progress forever, because new ideas are the name of the game.”

“He told us real war stories, about real clients, coming up with real ideas, on real deadlines. He told us what it was like to hate your ad partner and how it felt to get fired the first time.

“His lectures made your eyes go wide and your brain ache with creativity. One of his techniques — which I have used many times with my junior creative teams — was to put an egg timer on the table and have you write down as many ideas, word associations, doodles you could think of in under a minute, It was pressure, but it was fun.

“And some of the ideas I generated in Peter’s class, stayed in my book — in more refined iterations — for years after I left U of I.

“He taught us how to see the ‘legs’ of an idea. How to dump it if it was leading nowhere and how to revive it if there was a germ of goodness in it.

“He also taught us how to be engaging presenters — one of his quotes I still use to this day: ‘A client won’t like the idea unless they feel you like the idea. Always present it like you love it.’

“I don’t know if he still has his famous mustache and hipster, before-it-was-cool beard. But in 1994, he was my shaman of ad-man creativity; the Don Draper of U of I.

“My only regret: He never gave us scotch in class.”