Students worked in groups to solve problems at HCI/d Connect
Masters students in the human-computer interaction/design program at the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering had an opportunity showcase their skills in front of an attentive group of employers at HCI/d Connect at Alumni Hall in the Indiana Memorial Union Feb. 13-15.
The event included networking sessions, a chance for employers to give presentations outlining their design culture and what they’re looking for in candidates, a career fair, and next-day interviews. The highlight of HCI/d Connect, however, was the Design Challenge, which saw students asked to design a concept based on a specific set of parameters, all while working in a team setting and under the pressure of a deadline and the watchful eyes of employers.
“The way the event is structured is for them to showcase some of the skills they’ve gained during their time at SICE,” said Larry Ailes, associate director of career services and one of the organizers of the event. “We want the students to show the employers how complete of a package they are because it’s a unique opportunity. These employers are coming specifically for this program. When the employers are coming here specifically to see them, we want students to take advantage of that.”
The challenge addressed autonomous vehicle technology, such as driverless cars, that will change the way people commute to jobs or travel in their daily lives. Students were asked to design an experience with a driverless vehicle, watercraft, or aircraft that facilitates safe and efficient travel while accommodating needs of individual users. The groups were given 60 minutes to develop their designs, but 15 minutes into the challenge, students were given new parameters to shift their designs to the wishes of fictional investors, such as Volkswagen, Intel, Amazon, the European Union, and others.
Employers interacted with the groups during the allotted time, talking to the students and getting a sense of how they worked in a real-world exercise. At the end of the challenge, each group was welcomed to the stage to present their designs.
Safety was a focus of many of the designs, such as applications to keep riders apprised of possible safety issues like road conditions, customizing a user experience depending on the time of day and the user’s mood, and allowing users some semblance of control over the routes an autonomous car might take or how fast the vehicle could go.
Following the presentations, students took questions from employers and other students about how they came to arrive at their designs and to address possible unseen issues with the design.
Ryan Schade, a project manager for Software Engineering Professionals (SEP) in Indianapolis, was looking for a few specific traits in students.
“Sometimes it’s hard to gauge how people are going to work together,” Schade said. “The workforce is moving to a much more collaborative place where you have to work not only with other designers but designers, engineers, and marketers. This provides a bit of insight that is difficult to gauge in an on-campus interview and brings a unique perspective that is insightful for me as an employer.”
Asia Bartee, a senior human resources generalist from Brookside Sciences, was impressed with the students’ energy and technical skills, and she also was interested in how the students worked together.
“It’s all about those soft skills for me,” Bartee said. “How do they fit culturally inside the work environment given that they’re going to be in a challenging environment? Can they excel in their role while also fitting in an organization? That’s important, and this exercise demonstrates both of those. They’re all focused and driven.”
Taraneh Ekbia is a second-year graduate student, and she enjoyed the opportunity to show what she could do in front of the employers.
“The experience is really helpful in preparing us for the high -pressure situations we’ll be in with multiple stakeholders in the real world,” Ekbia said. “The time limit itself is not what we’re always going to deal with, but it gets us to jump to the important parts before anything else, and it makes us focus on getting the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible while focusing on what is important. The whole event is kind of like a career fair, and it’s generally a good way to learn how network and present yourself.”
Jordan Mazerolle is also a second-year student in the program, and he leaned on the lessons he learned during last year’s event.
“Last year, I was conscious of employers walking around,” Mazerolle said. “This time, I was a little more confident on not paying attention to them. I stuck to the importance of what I had to say about the project and making sure I was telling a coherent story. You don’t usually get this kind of exposure to employers where you have the ability to show them what we’ve learned or accomplished or the way we think through problems, which is very important in UX. It’s incredible.”