This past weekend I spoke for the first time (outside of a workplace lunch n' learn) to an audience of design students at my alma mater, Millersville University, at the annual Interdisciplinary Interaction Design Conference they organize and host. I was speaking alongside women in the industry that I admire, which added to the nervousness quite a bit; but I knew that as I was once sitting where these students were, I had an unique perspective to bring.
When James Pannafino (Professor of Interactive & Graphic Design at MU) asked me to be a presenter, I thought about what I could talk about: something technical? Process? Working with software developers? I’ve only been in the field for about 3 years but I feel like in that time and as a student I learned a lot of lessons, and still do, that other people can benefit from.
I spoke about my time as a student as Millersville, my experience as a design lab technician, and how I perceived alumni at that time. How I was really jaded about as a student was being under the impression that there were only opportunities for designers in larger cities – Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore – at large well-known companies. As well as the lack of understanding in what was realistic for me as an individual – financially, timing-wise, and skill-wise.
I talked to them about something my professors still bring up to current students – my hyper-organization. Some people just say “well I’m not really an organized person”, but as an undergrad beginning the application process, it's a must. During my senior semesters, I made this document of places I was going to send my materials out to (dates, responses/feedback, follow-ups) and one of my classmates saw it and said “you designed something that only YOU’RE going to see!” but, it made it more fun – less of a chore. I stressed to the students that if they need help in getting organized, not to be afraid to ask – as a student and as a professional, I’m not afraid to raise my hand and ask for help – I don’t think it makes me come off as stupid or lost, I think it makes me seem more human; and I would rather ask earlier than be completely in trouble later.
The last point I made was about not burning bridges and staying involved with your full community as a graduate. Friends, organizations, professors, coaches – you never know where an opportunity may show itself. Finding the right fit may take a little while, but keeping whatever is important to you at the forefront of your journey (whether it be creative freedom, learning, feeling invested in a company, or just a nice juicy paycheck) will help in getting there.
(Sidenote: Professor Pannafino also brought a class to Godfrey for a tour and presentation, and when asked what he thought my strengths for success were he simply stated “you know that 'Work Hard and Be Nice to People' poster? That's pretty much right on the money for Erin”. I never really thought of it that way, but it was a very appreciated sentiment.)