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From Behind the Scenes to Center Stage, Villa Maria’s 2023 American Advertising Awards Show was Unprecedented

This year’s American Advertising Awards was an extra special event for Villa Maria. From the event’s concept, to its production, to winning a major award, the College was represented every step of the way. Of course, the biggest deal of the night was our graphic design students winning the majority of the student awards – 4 out of 6, including student best in show.  

According to AAF Buffalo, this was the first year in recent history that an ad agency didn’t concept the AAA show themeVilla Maria students did. Senior graphic design students spent weeks separately brainstorming and concepting a theme idea, including everything from a catchy name and logo treatment to how the theme would be executed on show night. When the students’ concepts were complete, AAF Buffalo board members voted on Kelsey Sikora’s Promenade concept as this year’s winner.  

The board worked closely with Sikora, ‘23, to establish the logo, color palette, and overall vision for Promenade, making sure the theme balanced the perfect amount of nostalgia for the past with excitement for what the future holds. 

Besides working up the concept for this show, Sikora, ‘23, won Student Best in Show for Buffalo Monopoly in the Product or Service Sales Promotion – Packaging category. 

Kelsey Sikora’s Student Best in Show entry, Buffalo Monopoly.

The remaining student awards are as follows: 

Kelsey Sikora, ‘23 – Gold for Buffalo Monopoly in the Product or Service Sales Promotion – Packaging category

Jonathan Murtha, ‘22 – Gold for Void Crew Brand Campaign in the Integrated Brand Identity category


Cameron Cook, ’23 – Silver for Buffalo Star Party Campaign in the Integrated Advertising Campaign – Consumer Campaign category

2023 marks the fourth consecutive year in which a Villa student has won the Student Best in Show award. Previous winners include Lindsay Neilson, ’21, Zach Huber, ’21, and Francesca Bubb, ‘19. All 3 are currently working as designers locally: Neilson at Mr. Smith Agency, Huber at Mirror Matter, and Bubb at Delaware North.

Three alumni also won awards in several professional categories:

  • Katie Steckstor, ‘21, Graphic Designer at FARM – Gold for Icom Holiday Video in the Film, Video, and Sound category 
  • Lindsay Neilson, Art Director at Mr. Smith Agency – Silver for Twin Petrels in the Integrated Brand Identity Campaign category 
  • Lindsay Neilson – Silver for Neon Wave in the Advertising and Promotion – Email category 
  • Lindsay Neilson – Gold for Labatt USA: Player Partnership in the branded content and entertainment for online/interactive category  
  • Lindsay Neilson – Gold for Labatt USA: Man on the Steet in the Social Media – Campaign category; this campaign was also named the judge’s choice  
  • Lindsay Neilson – Silver for Hatchets and Hops in the Websites – Consumer category 
  • Lindsay Neilson – Silver for Gavigan and Gruppo in the Websites – Consumer category 
  • Brittney Sikora, ‘14, designer and art director – Silver for Community Beer Works Extra Large in the Visual – Illustration – Single category 
  • Brittney Sikora – Silver for Community Beer Works Summer Blockbuster in the Sales Promotion – Packaging – Single Unit category  
  • Brittney Sikora – Silver for Community Beer Works Spruce Almighty in the Sales Promotion – Packaging – Single Unit category  
  • Brittney Sikora – Billy Keane, Too Much to Let it Go, in the Sales Promotion – Packaging – Single Unit category 

Brittney Sikora also served as a judge for the student work. As a freelance designer and art director, she has worked with a range of local and national brands, including the Burchfield Penney Art Center, Community Beer Works, Villa Maria College, 43North, Breadhive, and a range of musicians and entrepreneurs. 

In addition to planning the show, hosting the show, and winning numerous awards, Lindsay Neilson was named the winner of the Future Star award.  

The Future Star award honors an outstanding young professional in the marketing and advertising field who has demonstrated great potential in his or her early years in the industry. The recipient has five years or less experience in the marketing and advertising field (excluding internships or part-time employment while working on a degree) and has been an AAF Buffalo member for at least one year. 

AAA co-host Chelsea Carney (left) presented Lindsay Neilson (right) with the Future Star Award.

As a student, Neilson completed an internship at Mr. Smith Agency in 2020. She accepted a full-time job offer with the same agency as a junior graphic designer, and she held that position until she was promoted to art director in May 2022.  

She graduated with highest honors — magna cum laude and a 4.0 GPA. She majored in graphic design and placed a strong focus on advertising and branding; specifically with graphic design, photography, and animation. 

She has been a member of the AAF Board since 2021 and was the communications chair as well as the co-chair for the 2023 American Advertising Awards.  

The College also served as a backdrop for much of the AAA show presentation. The opening video was filmed in the recording studio, restroom, classrooms, ground floor, and lockers. It features Lindsay Neilson, with a special appearance from Kelsey Sikora. The video was created by dPost and can be viewed here: 2023 AAF Award Show Intro – Inspired by A-Ha’s ‘Take On Me’. Neilson’s special award video was filmed on campus, showcasing parts of the athletic center, including the basketball court, locker room, and more. The video included clips of Julie Zack, a graphic design professor who taught Lindsay.  

The event photographer was also a Villa grad. Monica Bates, a 2020 graduate of the College’s photography program, was behind the lens capturing still shots from the evening. All of the photos featured in this article were taken by Monica, who runs her own photography and design company, Mbates Creative.

Student Best in Show winner Kelsey Sikora with Future Star winner Lindsay Neilson

To learn more about Villa Maria’s graphic design program, visit