BXA Junior Portfolio

Student information

Jessica Shen

BXA program: BCSA

Concentrations:  Computer Science and Industrial Design

Expected Graduation:  May 2016

Scholars Statement


        As a high school student, I was fascinated by the world of animation, art and special effects. At the time, it was just an interest – it had been drilled into my head by my parents that STEM subjects were the only practical disciplines for a career.  It never really crossed my mind that doing both was possible.  When I applied for college, my advisor noticed my extensive portfolio and asked why I chose not to apply for an art program.  Until then, I had never really considered it.  She sent me away with a list of engineering schools, mentioning the BXA program at CMU. 

        A few months later, I received my acceptance letter into the BCSA program.  I had been waitlisted for art, but had been accepted into the School of Design. I feared that I wouldn’t have as much exposure to Animation and Graphics, but figured I could get around it.  However, my acceptance into the School of Design was probably one of the best things to ever happen to me. 

        I immediately fell in love with design – especially the attention to detail and the aspects of design I saw everywhere in my life.  While maintaining an interest in animation, it redirected itself into user experience, physical forms, and communication.   My interest grew in different directions, something I wish I had anticipated coming in.

        I came in with a very directed mindset—I wanted to pursue graphics as much as possible.  I drafted a complicated plan, which, looking back was a bit ridiculous.  I had set myself on taking the hardest classes immediately to get into the graphics classes I wanted.  Along with the already rigorous course plan, I drove myself into work -- burning myself out.  I had affixed a plan that would enable me to take the courses that I wanted, but few actually would help me reach my goals.  Because my views changed over time, I wasted a lot of time and effort on unnecessary courses.

        One of my largest disappointments was the course requirements for Computer Science.  While they were very relevant to a backend engineer perhaps, they didn’t teach me about my interests.  These classes were so rigorous that they took time from the courses that I wanted to focus on.  When I realized this, I had already finished most of the core.  My peers were taking courses that seemed much more relevant to my interests and I felt that I was missing out on many learning opportunities.  However, I still had the chance to redirect myself and open myself up to all the other courses CMU has to offer.  It took some overloading, but I was able to find courses that really interested me – courses in Interactive media, Sound design, and Animation.  These courses helped define what I wanted to do with my experience at CMU. 

        This change led me to a user experience design internship that refueled my determination in learning and creating.  Starting an internship was difficult – I had to throw myself into a completely new environment and catch up to professionals.  While short, the internship helped me learn a lot about the professional world and the iterative process of design. 

        Interested in learning more about User Experience, I took a design course that opened my eyes to everything user experience can be.  In the course we were fortunate enough to work with Ford on the topic of future mobility.  While many teams followed a straightforward path working with new technology, my team landed on the topic of school children and public transportation.  The solution we landed on was a bit unexpected, but was extremely satisfying and eye opening to work on.  Eventually the project was really successful.

        Outside of my classes, I was able to find several outlets for self-expression.  I joined cmuTV and Dancers symposium, both of which got me more involved with campus events and the active student culture.  I later joined Lunar Gala, the student run fashion show.  The show embodies every aspect of my interests. As both a designer and part of the creative team, I get to design graphics and physical objects, create the experience, animate, design sound, work with technical aspects, and more. I’ve gotten to work with engineers, other designers, and many other disciplines.  I’ve been inspired by nearly every person involved in the show, especially because of their strong dedication to the show.  While a community like this is rare outside of school, I hope to be involved in designing experiences like it in the future.  While the show doesn’t help me with my degree, Lunar Gala has become one of the largest sources of inspiration and learning in my time here as well as a huge social experience.

        Over the next year, I hope to focus on designing experiences.  This summer I’ll be interning at Apple as an experience software designer.    At school, I will hone my abilities in different facets.  Courses like Time, Motion, Communication will help me with graphics communication, Experimental Form with physical experiences and experimental media, Computational Intelligence with interactive technology, and so on.  Although I wish many of these courses had been part of my previous semesters, as they would have really enriched my BXA capstone, they will help me in the future with my interests in interactivity and the user experience. 

        I’m not completely sure what I’ll be doing in the future, but I do know that I want to work with interactive design and experiences.  Whether that is designing shows, theme parks, or iPhone applications, I plan to explore many different disciplines in the field.  Even at school, the BXA program has let me explore these details from a student perspective.  In the future, I hope that I keep learning – as far as I can tell, I believe that I will.  My experience in working with Lunar Gala and interning has shown me incredible learning opportunities that have nothing to do with class.  

Goals Questionairre


§  Which courses encouraged you to identify the theoretical, conceptual, or methodological connections between your chosen Concentration disciplines? How did they encourage this identification?  Which courses helped you to integrate your Concentrations through practical application of these connections? What assignments allowed you to produce this kind of interdisciplinary work? (I’ve combined these two because they have pretty much the same answer)

Web Application Development, Tools for UX Design and Experimental Animation were courses that allowed me to really understand the connections between design and computer science.  All of them provided content that had to do with human experiences and interactions with digital interfaces.  Web Application Development helped me understand the more traditional bridges between computer science and design through building a web application.   I got the chance to design an application and build it with code.  While this course was more code heavy, I took the chance to give myself more emphasis on design.  This helped me understand what the traditional uses for design and computer science are together.  The Tools for UX Design course on the other hand, was a design course in designing human experiences.  In one project, I got to work with a group, where we designed a transportation experience complete with a phone application and other interface technologies.  While I did not physically code in this course, I saw all of the connections that code would have played if the experience we designed were to be implemented in real life.  The Experimental Animation course was more abstract and arts based.   Because it was so freeform, I got to explore the different technologies that already connect code and visual movement.  I got to experiment with kinect, motion capture, and similar technologies and use code to translate motion into visuals.  While this was more art based, there was a lot I could apply with a more design perspective. 


§  In which courses do you feel you improved your communication skills, either in written, visual, or oral expression? Which assignments show most clearly your skills in this area?

Meaning of Form, How People work, and Experimental Animation.  The Meaning of Form course was a course in how form communicates an aesthetic feel.  While it was all about visual communication, it was also communication to a user with environment and ergonomics.  We did three projects throughout the course, and I fully showed my skills in the Fire extinguisher project, where we created a fire extinguisher that fit in a specific environment ( I was assigned a theater).  From there, we designed based on both aesthetics, environment, and users.  The How People Work course was about researching “how people work.”  We had one project where we picked a problem, conducted surveys, hands on experiments with people, and created a solution.  We then communicated our findings and solutions through a poster, which helped me learn how to communicated from a more graphics point of view.  In Experimental Animation, we experimented with different forms of animation.  In one projects, I created an animation using water and shadow puppets.  I think I was really able to show how to communicate with a consistent look and feel throughout a video while working with different elements.


§  Which courses allowed you to explore local and global perspectives on culture, society, and history? Which assignments pushed you to investigate and expand these perspectives?

Design History, Western Music History, and BXA Junior Seminar.  Design History really let me see how design has developed over the years based on human development as well as cultural development.  One project we did was to study how a single product has changed over the years.  I got to see all aspects of a product (I worked with the light) from its inception to all of its iterations from country to country, from decade to decade.  Western Music History was a course where I got to experience music from the medieval ages to present time.  While there were no assignments, I got to listen to a lot of music and study where it came from and how culture, religion and locale changed music.   BXA Junior Seminar has given me the opportunity to look into subcultures in more detail that I otherwise wouldn’t have really looked into on my own.  While we haven’t really done an assignment yet, the artifact assignment will let me look into a single subculture with even more depth and take a look from my own perspective.  


§  In which courses were you able to engage in experiments and theoretical work to produce real-world knowledge? How did the assignments for these courses encourage the application of theory to practical knowledge?

Design Studios, Tools for UX Design and How People Work have all allowed me to do research in real world settings with my peers and with real world situations.   Some of the notable projects from the studios involve a hurricane relief tent that would work in situations similar to the Katrina hurricane, a fertilizer system for reducing waste where we tested with several lawn owners, and a houses-wares product design.  The UX Design class allowed us to work with Ford to design a future automobile system, where we researched and surveyed family dynamics and interaction between kids.  The How People Work project gave us the chance to create an application based on real-world research with college students and safety in Pittsburgh. 


§  Which courses encouraged you to think more about how decision-making on both the individual and social levels is informed by cognitive, behavioral, and ethical issues? Which assignments allowed you to more closely examine how these issues affect decisions?

Design Studios, How People Work, Tools for UX Design, Web application development, Social Psychology.  Because Design is essentially based on the decision-making process of people, every project I have worked on for design courses have allowed me to more closely examine how factors outside of simple decision making can affect behavior.  Web application development allowed me to see this again in the same way through the design of a web application.  Social Psychology was a more concise study of these behaviors.  Instead of experiencing and studying from first hand experience and surveys, I read about analysis of these behaviors.   I wrote a paper relating my personal experiences to these behaviors, which really opened my eyes to seeing behaviors around me. 


§  Where are you headed next in your academic career? What would you like to accomplish, both academically and creatively, by the end of your senior year? What kinds of projects, or courses, will help you achieve those goals?

I am really interested in finding where I land in terms of being both a designer and a developer.  At this point, I think I have achieved a good understanding and core of both design and code, but I haven’t really found where I mesh the best.  I am extremely interested in Animation and the User Experience, so I would really like to explore both and find a happy medium.  I am really interested in taking Golan Levin’s Special Topics in Interactive Art and Computational Design course, which explores computation, including animation and experience.  I think the course would really help me explore the different opportunities design and code provide together.  I am interested in creating more animations and playing with how code can amplify its effects. 


§  Where are you headed next in your professional career? What would you like to accomplish, both academically and creatively, in the years following graduation? What kinds of projects, or courses, will help you achieve those goals?

Following graduation, I would hope to continue experimenting with animation and code.  I would love to see myself continue creating outside of a professional career for myself.  In terms of a professional career, I think a career in user experience would be ideal.  Being able to bring in elements of experimental animation into visual experiences in everyday experiences is something I’m extremely interested.  For me, its like bringing a little magic into daily life.  Products like the new pebble watch exhibit that kind of magic for me.  I think that taking the Special Topics course and Dan Boyarski’s Time Motion Communication Course would be really helpful in helping me achieve those goals. 






Computer Science

15-112 - Fundamentals of Programming and                Computer Science
21-259 - Calculus in Three Dimensions

15-122 - Principles of Imperative                                  Computation
21-127 - Concepts of Mathematics

51-251 - Great Theoretical Ideas of                              Computer Science

21-241 - Matrices and Linear                                        Transformations
36-217 - Probability Theory and Random                      Processes
15-150 - Principles of Fundamental                              Programming

15-213 - Intro to Computer Systems

15-437 - Web Application Development

15-210 - Parallel and Sequential Data                          Structures and Algorithms
15-265 - Experimental Animation
15-322 - Intro to Computer Music

Sound Design (IDEATE minor)

57-337 - Sound Recording

56-161 - Eurhythmics I
57-172 - Survey of Western Music History

57-438 - Multitrack Recording

15-322 - Intro to Computer Music



51-121 - Design Drawing I
51-101 - Design Studio I
51-103 - Design Workshop 
51-171 - Human Experience in Design

51-122 - Design Drawing II
51-102 - Design Studio II
51-104 - Design Workshop II
51-132 - Intro to Photo Design
51-134 - Photo Design II

51-211 - Generation of Form: ID Studio I
51-243 - Prototyping
51-251 - Digital Prototyping
51-271 - Design History I

51-212 - Meaning of Form: ID studio II
51-242 - How Things Work

51-311 - Product Design: ID Studio III
51-341 - How Things are Made
51-241 - How People Work
51-359 - Tools for UX Design
51-355 - Experimental Sketching

51-347 - Drawing From Nature

BXA / Interdisciplinary

62-190 - BXA Freshman Interdisciplinary                      Seminar

62-110 - Passport to the Arts

52-410 - BXA Junior Seminar