Volume X, Issue 1 | February 13, 2024

Illustrative Inspiration

“Tenacious and incredibly talented” Ileana Hernandez shares her creativity widely through drawings and designs — along with her web and social media work at SMC — while refusing to let a lifelong condition disable her dreams.

SMC In Focus



For someone whose parents were told by a doctor that she might never walk, Ileana Hernandez has come a long way. Ileana, who serves as web services coordinator at Santa Monica College, was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC), a rare disorder that permanently stiffens the joints. Yet although AMC may restrict her movement, it in no way restrains her creativity or the joyful inspiration she instills in others.

“She’s tenacious and incredibly talented,” says SMC Director of Web and Social Media Strategy Paul Trautwein, who brought Ileana on board to help expand the college’s online reach.

So although most SMC students may never meet Ileana in person, they benefit from her work. Her duties range from helping maintain SMC’s website to spearheading the college’s social media outreach through platforms including Instagram and Facebook.

“My first big project was redesigning the admissions pages,” says Ileana, who has been at SMC full time for less than two years. “I enjoyed it because I knew I was helping make it easier for students to apply.” Other endeavors have included highlighting the diversity of SMC’s faculty and staff for Women’s History and Black History months.

“I enjoy coming up with projects that give people a sense of what goes on behind the scenes at SMC,” Ileana explains.

“Ileana analyzes things and then masters them,” Paul says. “We couldn’t have asked for anyone better.”

Lifelong Learner

Paul first met Ileana a couple of decades ago while a faculty member at Mount St. Mary’s University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in graphic design. “She took all my classes and was right up there with the best students,” Paul says. As fascinated by the word as by the image, Ileana went on to earn a master’s in creative writing at Mount St. Mary’s.

Ileana and Paul kept in touch over the years. She continued to reach out to him for mentorship and for his expertise on certain technologies. “She’s a lifelong learner,” he says.

At SMC, Ileana aids Paul in blending creativity with technology to widen the college’s digital influence. “We’re jacks of all trades,” Paul says, although he mainly entrusts the college’s social media communications to Ileana. “She’s better at it than I am.”

Bearing out his trust in Ileana’s social media savvy is the jump in SMC’s Instagram account by nearly 5,000 followers in the short time she has worked at the college.

Artistry and Advocacy

Since the limited range of movement in her arms prevents using physical brushes, Ileana employs digital technology to turn electronic screens into artistic canvasses. She showcases her artistry on the Instagram account “illystrations,” so titled for her own nickname of Illy. The colorful drawings are filled with wit and joy, reflecting her personality.

This vibrant optimism is even more inspiring since her condition of AMC currently has no cure. Its severity during childhood even stopped her from eating unaided. That was during the days before the Americans with Disabilities Act became law, and the elementary school she attended refused to make any accommodations for her. Fortunately, Ileana’s mother served as a fierce advocate, coming to school to help her eat lunch and successfully fighting for a change in the school’s administration.

“I owe so much to my parents, especially my mom,” Ileana says.

Ileana proudly follows her mother’s example by advocating for others who have AMC. This includes volunteering and having served on the board of the nonprofit Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita Support Inc., which raises awareness of the condition while bolstering medical research and supporting those affected by it.

“I started by helping out with their website,” Ileana recalls. Later, she and other board members were invited to Russia, where they spoke about AMC and the importance of support groups. “Not a lot of doctors know about arthrogryposis, so it was cool to spend time with specialists in the condition from all over the world,” she says.

She also could see they were achieving an impact. “I remember a team there who felt motivated by our talk to start their own support group,” Ileana says. Later Ileana and others from the nonprofit traveled to another global symposium in Poland to further spread the message about how to start support groups and the difference they can make in the lives of people with AMC.

Beyond the Office

In addition to her SMC career, Ileana’s freelance jobs have ranged from magazines and marketing materials to designing and managing the website for the popular Office Ladies podcast. She also illustrates the merchandise for the podcast, which features actresses Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey, stars of the NBC comedy The Office, commenting on episodes of that hit series.

“That’s definitely one of my favorite projects,” Ileana says, “although I don’t work with them as much now because I’m so busy at SMC.”

In her free time, Ileana enjoys visiting museums, going to the beach and taking care of her cats. She also looks forward to traveling more, including a planned trip to Japan.

She loves musicals and reads voraciously, with a passion for authors as diverse as Jane Austen, Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Sandra Cisneros and poet Mary Oliver. She is a fan of the Harry Potter series as well, having named one of her cats Weasley after Harry’s compatriot Ron. Her other cat is named Taco.

Ileana may even draw upon her graduate degree to become an author herself. “I would love to write and illustrate a children’s book,” she says. No matter which creative paths she pursues in the future, though, it’s certain she’ll let nothing stand in her way.

 “A lot of people say their disability doesn’t define them,” Ileana says of living with AMC. “But in a lot of ways, for me, I think it has. And that’s not a bad thing. It’s taught me to be patient and super creative.” What she means by “creative”, Ileana clarifies, is that there is more than one way to get things done—encompassing far more in life than her artistic, creative work. And that, inarguably, is the most important thing.