Drive for Success Helps Automotive Design Students Win Phil Hill Scholarships


(L–R) Student Brett LaBar, IND Executive Director Tom Matano, student Sean Wilson, Pebble Beach Concours Chairman Sandra Button, Academy of Art University President Dr. Elisa Stephens and IND Director Antonio Borja. Photo courtesy of the Pebble Beach Company.

Academy of Art University School of Industrial Design (IND) students Brett LaBar and Sean Wilson have a few things in common: They are friends who share a passion for automotive design. And last summer, they were both awarded Phil Hill scholarships at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

The Academy has partnered with the Pebble Beach Company Foundation, which established the scholarship program in memory of legendary race car driver Phil Hill, since 2012. Hill participated in the prestigious Concours d’Elegance multiple times and also served as a judge for the event for many years until he passed away in 2008. His namesake scholarships cover two years of college expenses for exceptional students pursuing careers in automotive arts and technical programs. 

According to IND Director Antonio Borja, students interested in applying for a Phil Hill scholarship must submit examples of their best work and a short video explaining why they would benefit from a scholarship. He and IND Executive Director Tom Matano review all submissions and select the applicants they believe are most worthy of the scholarships. They then pass their choices along to the Pebble Beach Company for final approval.

“It felt great to award the Phil Hill scholarships to Brett and Sean because they are merit-based,” said Borja. “We always try to give the scholarships to students who truly deserve them and these two do. They are friends who push each other to improve their craft, day after day. Every time I visit a class or studio, I can guarantee they’re working on their projects. It shows because their growth curve is accelerated.”

LaBar and Wilson—both juniors—have excelled so strongly in their studies, in fact, that they were allowed to skip Transportation Design 3, an intermediate level automotive course, and go right to Transportation Design 4, the advanced version of the class. Borja noted that this was a first for the department. 

Wilson had an inkling that he and LaBar might have won the scholarships when Borja asked them for bios. But he didn’t know for sure until Borja handed both of them tickets to the Concours d’Elegance. 

“It was an awesome surprise,” he said. “The scholarship takes a lot of stress off of me and lets me focus on my studies. It also helps me give a bit back to my parents since they’ve been putting me through school. “

The two friends drove down to the event together and spent a whirlwind couple of days checking out what is widely regarded as the world’s finest collection of show cars. Academy of Art University President Dr. Elisa Stephens, Matano and Borja also attended the event. LaBar and Wilson were recognized for being Phil Hill scholarship winners during a special dinner. LaBar, who is currently in Detroit completing a one-semester internship with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, said sharing the scholarship experience with Wilson made it that much better. 

“We’ve been in this program together since our first semester and have had the same class schedule since our second semester,” he remarked. “You build relationships with all the people in your group and you’re glad for anyone’s success. But Sean is such a hard worker, so seeing him honored was especially great.”

Wilson was equally happy that his friend was named a Phil Hill scholar. He also credits LaBar for motivating him to excel in class. 

“Working with Brett all the time helps me push myself,” he said. “We feed off of each other’s methods and teach each other new things.”

LaBar encourages other students to apply for a Phil Hill scholarship. He said that the Academy is one of the few colleges with an automotive design program to offer such a substantial financial award. 

“You can’t control who gets a scholarship, but if you work hard, you definitely have the potential to receive one,” he stated. “I appreciate Antonio and other faculty in our department for providing us with guidance about this opportunity.”