“About to drive, ttyl.”
Three words and a popular abbreviation used by texters all over helped Sierra Fentress design a billboard to be entered in a scholarship competition. The Sykesville resident and Syracuse University junior said she felt drawn to a campaign called Project Yellow Light, which discourages distracted driving.
Fentress, 20, a McDonogh School graduate, said she was in an advertising class last semester at Syracuse, working on a final project that partnered with the Project Yellow Light contest, when she began jotting down ideas for a public service announcement.
“I was sitting there with friends, and we were talking about how we text each other. I wanted to focus on something positive,” Fentress said. “In a lot of my classes, we talk about how a lot of times, especially with a younger audience, it’s easier to tell them what to do instead of what not to do.”
After pages of rough drafts and discarded ideas, from clever images to rhymes and memes for inspiration, Fentress said her “It’s Simple” theme stood out. A text bubble with “Talk to you later” and “ttyl” inside of it became her graphic centerpiece.
“I wanted my message to be instead of, ‘Don’t text and drive’ ... you could text before you drive to let people know,” she said. “To have a positive message as something you can do to help instead of something you don’t want to do. Language that teens and young adults use, and abbreviations.”
Fentress submitted her work for the class and the contest, and Project Yellow Light recently selected her billboard design as its college-level contest winner. More then 2,100 entries came in for the competition this year.
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The selection does score Fentress some scholarship funds, and she said her submission is being displayed on billboards in 26 cities across the country, the closest to her being in Baltimore.
“It was such a surprise when they called me. I was ecstatic,” Fentress said. “I couldn’t even put it into words. I was so surprised, so grateful.”
Project Yellow Light was established in 2007 by the family of Hunter Garner as a way to honor his memory after he died in a car crash at age 16. According to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, 2,841 people were killed in crashes involving distracted drivers in 2018. Texting while driving seems to be a problematic trend among younger drivers, according to the data ― that same year, 8% of people killed in crashes died when the drivers were distracted at the time of the crash.
Fentress is the second Syracuse student in as many years to win Project Yellow Light’s college scholarship competition through Rebecca Ortiz’s advertising class in the college’s Newhouse School of Public Communications.
“Having students win two years in a row is evidence of the excellent creative and strategic capabilities of our advertising students,” Ortiz said in a recent Newhouse post. “I give them the foundation and general road map, but they ultimately build the structures, and their work has clearly paid off.”
Fentress said she’s getting ready for virtual learning to start her junior year at Syracuse, and she’s pursing a degree with a focus on creative advertising and graphic design.
“It’s really an awesome opportunity, and I’ve really loved every part of it,” she said. “I honestly didn’t think in a thousand years I’d win. But I was happy with my design.”