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Student Fellows Share Their First-Hand Experiences in the DIG Student Fellow Program

Onawa Gardiner, Marketing Specialist

Last summer we launched the Student Fellows Program in order to facilitate continued partnership with U-M students while providing additional resources and support for the Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG). After a successful inaugural year, we interviewed three Student Fellows to gain a first-hand perspective and illuminate the experience for students interested in applying for summer Student Fellow positions at DEI.

Jessamine Bartley-Matthews, Weikai Zhang and Heidi Wong shared their experiences partnering with DIG developers to help translate digital engagement tools from innovation to infrastructure. Read on to learn about their first-hand perspective and then check out the current openings in the Student Fellows Program.

What impact did you have on the DIG tools you worked on?

Jessamine: I have been working on ECoach since starting as a UX Fellow with DIG, and one of my main contributions from last semester was the redesign of the grade calculator tool. For the redesign, I incorporated student feedback from user interviews to streamline the interface and provide students with a more user-friendly tool that provides them with meaningful, actionable data. My future impact involves redesigning the UX and visual experience of ECoach as a whole.

Weikai: During the summer 2015, I did my internship as a Software Developer Intern in DIG. At that time, I worked with Chris, Indu, and Jasmine (Student Fellow) on redesigning and rebuilding the Academic Reporting Toolkit (ART) project. We came up with different design ideas and realized them with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to see if those ideas worked well, which gradually formed the basis of the next version of the ART website.

During the Fall 2015, I continued my work as a Student Fellow in DIG on the Student Explorer project. We have already created the fundamental structure of the website and linked students’ data to it, and we are working on creating multiple visualizations for better understanding and usability right now.

What piece of advice or encouragement would you give to incoming student fellows?

Jessamine: DIG is an incredibly collaborative environment, and there are always people from all facets of the University that are willing to engage in conversation or provide Fellows with new insights or feedback on their designs. I would encourage all new Fellows to get to know the other people working in the DEI collaborative space, and use their diverse skills and expertise to gain insights and new perspectives into their design choices.

Weikai: People in DIG are working on many interesting and meaningful projects now, and they are really kind and ready to help you at any time. If you’d like to make contributions to our University, joining the Student Fellows Program in DIG would be a great way.

Heidi: Take advantage of the opportunity to apply some of the methods you learn in your classes into real projects that could make a difference across the University.

What new skills did you develop?

Jessamine: I have definitely benefited from being able to apply everything that I’m learning in the classroom to a real-world project that I care about. Through my work with ECoach, I have developed my sketching, wireframing, and prototyping skills, as well as my ability to communicate design ideas to a diverse team. Ben has been incredibly supportive of my desire to grow into new areas, such as graphic design and development, and has provided me with challenging projects that let me test my wings while still offering feedback and support.

Weikai: The most important skill I have developed is the programming skill. I learned many useful and popular frameworks that are currently being used by many big companies, which would definitely help me a lot in the future.

Heidi: Last semester, I had the opportunity to practice some front-end development skills. I was also given a chance to drive some of the user research going into ECoach.

How did working with DIG enhance your overall experience at U-M and what was your favorite aspect from your experience as a Student Fellow for DIG?

Jessamine: I mentioned this a little before, but one of the things that makes me so excited to come into work every day is the level of trust that DIG developers and designers have in the Student Fellows. It’s easy to feel like an imposter when you’re learning a new skill or changing careers, but at DIG I have always felt like I have something important to contribute to the mix, and that my opinions are valuable. Being engaged with the amazing people working on ECoach has helped me to find my voice as a designer, and this confidence has carried through to my classes.

Weikai: I think working with DIG was a great chance for me to see how staff at U-M were working, and by making contributions to the projects, my sense of belonging was significantly promoted. My favorite part was participating in the interviews with faculty members and advisors in our university. It was really interesting to see that different users had different limitations,  requirements, and expectations for the websites, and figuring out how to solve all the problems with one combined solution was meaningful for making people’s work more efficient.

Heidi: Working at DIG has helped me feel like I’m a part of a smaller community within the University. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed and get lost in all of the interesting things happening on campus. I’m happy to have found a place that I feel a part of, and that has impactful projects that I can participate in. My favorite aspect of this experience is the opportunity to apply what I’ve learned in some of my classes and see how they can drive and make an impact on real projects. I also appreciate having the level of autonomy that I’ve been given on the projects I’ve worked on so far. As a UX fellow, I’ve been given a lot of say in the directions we take at certain stages of the design, and this has been a refreshing experience.

How did the office environment assist and support your learning and working experience?

Jessamine: When you’re surrounded by enthusiastic people and whiteboards, it’s hard not to want to collaborate and explore.

Weikai: Since this was the first time that I actually worked in an “office”, it’s really meaningful for me to understand what “work” really means.

Heidi: It has been nice being surrounded by so many knowledgeable and kind people who share similar ideals around education. I’ve enjoyed learning about the pedagogy around learning technologies and how that ties into some of the initiatives being spearheaded within the office and the University.

About the DIG Student Fellows

Jessamine Bartley-Matthews (Twitter: @jessaminnne) is a first year master’s student in the School of Information focusing on user experience design. Her past experience includes a Bachelor of Arts in English from Boston University, which preceded her work in Nicaragua as a Peace Corps Agriculture and Food Security Volunteer.

Weikai Zhang (Twitter: @zwkhr) is a second year master’s student in the School of Information focusing on software development. He earned a Bachelors of Management from Peking University.

Heidi Wong is a second year master’s student in the School of Information focusing on user experience design. She has worked at IBM as a Software Design Intern and has a Bachelors of Arts in Cognitive Science from Swarthmore College.

Learn more about the Digital Innovation Greenhouse here and discover student opportunities to collaborate with DEI here.

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