One Student’s Journey to C-SED’s Front Door
As a first-generation college student Ally Sierra, C-SED’s Design Consultant, has found her own way through both her undergraduate and graduate experiences without the generational knowledge most other students are prepared with.
Story by Lawryn Fraley
During her undergraduate career in Communication Studies, she served as a social media manager for many organizations, most notably for College Democrats. From this experience, Ally learned two lessons about herself that would ultimately alter her life trajectory: first, she was passionate about making change in this world; and second, spending all day on social media makes her anxious. Knowing that she wouldn’t enjoy a career in corporate communication or social media management, she found herself applying to the UX Design program within the School of Information.
A couple years down the road, Ally found the C-SED by accident while browsing for summer internships, a requirement for her Master of Science of Information program. She was surprised to find that you could tailor the user design process to be user-centered, “I was immediately drawn to the idea of incorporating social justice into my design process too.” Applying for the Summer Studio Intern position at C-SED felt natural as it combined her passion for change with her UX Design coursework. Ally loved her Summer Studio Internship experience, enjoying the opportunity to work with two other student interns and develop a bond with the C-SED Community. She found the emphasis on self-reflection within the Socially Engaged Design (SED) Process Model the most impactful for her, “working on a diverse team and reflecting on your assumptions helped me bring more awareness into my designs. I am not, and never will be, designing for a 23-year-old Ally living in Ypsilanti, MI.”
The self-reflection component is just one of the characteristics of the SED Process Model that makes it unique from other models. These differences helped Ally apply her UX Design coursework to a broader set of post-graduate options, “the way it is structured [the UX Design Program] kind of seems like the program is setting us up to build apps – and I hate coding. C-SED helped me decide that my end goals could be anything and learn that apps and websites are not always the solution.” Ally also learned about her professional needs as a Summer Studio Intern. She discovered that working full-time on a project with a small design team is much more socially demanding than any of her semester-long projects with teams that only co-work for a couple hours a week. As a result, Ally knows that she must feel comfortable enough working on a team to bring her personality and life into the work that she does. She knows that sharing things with a team that influence her work might be uncomfortable at times, but that vulnerability builds a stronger team.
After completing her Summer Studio internship at C-SED, Ally stayed on the team for her final year in graduate school as the Design Consultant. As an asset to the C-SED staff team, Ally mentored the group of undergraduate Storytellers tasked with sharing C-SED’s work with the public and provided an invaluable student perspective to C-SED’s mission. As her graduate career draws to a close, Ally has battled many first-generation fueled bouts of imposter syndrome, “ I was doubting my ability to persist in the professional world. But now I am submitting my final projects for my degree and I am so proud of myself. And I have learned that I will feel like an imposter from time to time and that feeling is only temporary.”