Barbara Astrini

CCU Alumni Barbara Astrini earns 2019 Emmy Award

In 1997, 11-year-old Barbara Astrini moved from São Paulo, Brazil, to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Speaking little English, Astrini turned to picture books, TV and other forms of media to help her to learn the language of her new home.

Junie B. Jones. Rugrats. Lizzie McGuire. These were the characters that filled Astrini’s world in the afternoons, when colors and images combined with sounds and words allowed her, gradually, to make sense of the world.

“When I first moved to America and barely knew any English, I picked up a copy of a Junie B. Jones book, because I was attracted to the silly cartoon on the cover,” said Astrini. “Every night, my mother and I read each page painstakingly, checking a translator dictionary often. It took a while, but finishing it was a huge success for both of us.”

Television also played a pivotal role in her early education.

"TV networks like Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network — that’s how I learned English,” said Astrini. “I would put captions on and learn; that’s how I survived on the playground.”

“Survived” may be an understatement for this graphic artist who went on to become an award-winning associate art director at Nickelodeon in the Nick Jr. Creative Department. A 2011 CCU graduate with a degree in graphic design, Astrini now lives in Manhattan and creates bright, engaging graphics and animated videos with names like “Alpha-beats,” “Fruit Boogie” and “Through the Glass Slipper” for a preschool audience. Her recent short piece for Nick Jr., “Color Sing: RED,” won a 2019 Emmy award for Outstanding Short Format Children’s Program.

“I try to inject moments of education in everything I do.”

Astrini’s work, considered the field of “edutainment,” can be seen in the seven-minute interim between programs on Nick Jr. For example, she might create a promotion for a new episode of Paw Patrol, or an announcement for the time of a particular program’s airing. Also, she creates short (one- to two-minute) educational videos that air between programs and are also increasingly being used on a Nick Jr. paid mobile app. One short video she created in 2018, titled Nick Jr. “Alpha-beats,” won a Parents’ Choice Award, presented by the renowned nonprofit organization Parents’ Choice Foundation.

“My audience is young and just learning to read,” said Astrini. “I try to inject moments of education in everything I do, especially with literacy. Even when we are making graphics that say ‘Monday at 7 p.m.,’ I want to make sure those letters are readable to our preschoolers, so they can begin to connect letter shapes with sounds.”

Astrini’s artistic journey began in high school, when she earned a degree in digital communications from Horry County’s Academy for Arts, Science and Technology (AAST) in 2008. She continued her interest in graphics and digital media at CCU, where she encountered inspiration and high expectations in her professors and opportunities in student media.

 “I call them the holy trinity: Paul Olsen, Scott Mann and Jeff Case,” said Astrini. “The three of them played very different roles and were each very important to me. Paul Olsen pushed me to do design when I was originally a journalism major; Scott taught me to be tight, nimble, proper and professional; and with Case, it was opening my creativity notes.”

While she names him as a divinity, Mann, associate professor in the Department of Visual Arts, claims it was Astrini’s initiative, energy and talent that propelled her to the top of her industry.

“She came in with a lot of expertise and a lot of ambition,” said Mann. “I was pretty demanding, and we kind of butted heads a little bit, which was fantastic. It made her work harder, and she had a strong group of students around her, so she was pushed by me, her colleagues, and her other professors, and she had a lot of motivation to do a lot of different things.”

During her years at CCU, Astrini became involved in the student newspaper The Chanticleer and student literary magazine Tempo, for which she won a design award that remains on her website today.

“Getting involved in those was the best part of Coastal,” Astrini said.

During her years at CCU, Astrini became involved in the student newspaper The Chanticleer and student literary magazine Tempo, for which she won a design award that remains on her website today.

“Getting involved in those was the best part of Coastal,” Astrini said.

After graduation, Astrini worked at a marketing firm in Myrtle Beach for a year before moving to Raleigh-Durham, N.C., for a position as graphic designer. In February 2015, she landed her first role at Nickelodeon, as designer/animator, and the shift from Nickelodeon to Nick. Jr. was a personal decision based on her interests.

“That was a lateral move that I chose because I love working with preschoolers,” said Astrini. “I think it’s really cool, the responsibility we get to make educational cartoons. I take that really seriously.”

Today, Astrini, who became an American citizen in 2018, lives with her husband, Devin Currie, who also attended AAST and CCU and works at Scholastic. She keeps close ties with CCU, having recently taken a group of graphic design students, accompanied by Mann, on a tour of Nick Jr. Studios when they visited New York. In addition, she remains close to her family and looks to them for inspiration and preliminary feedback on her work.

“In Brazilian culture, family is very important, and mine has played a huge role in my work,” said Astrini. “I send my parents screenshots of all my illustrations before I publish them, my sisters always happen to be around when I have big inspiration, and my nieces and nephews are my first focus group.”

Astrini credits those around her as catalysts for her success, but Mann tells a different story, one of initiative and determination.

“So much of the great work she did, she did all on her own. There was nobody to suggest it to her or anything like that, she just … she was a go-getter, and she still is. That’s why she’s in the position she’s in.”