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.