Student learns intersectionality of cultural nuance, design at world renowned research symposium

Freshman year wasn’t a walk in the park for mechanical engineering senior Laura Murphy. Though she had a strong desire to use her education to make a change in the world, Murphy felt her classes were missing elements she could link to her passions and goals.

“I was taking these classes in engineering that were exciting and cool, but I also felt like I was missing this whole other part of me that was wanting to make a difference and make an impact,” Murphy said. “I felt like I just wasn’t getting the impact and understanding of how what I was learning in my classes was going to relate to the real world and real people.”

Murphy decided to join optiMize, a social innovation student organization, during her sophomore year — a decision she said has been a significantly transformative experience.

“I would not be where I am today without optiMize. I feel like all of my work now is centered around doing what I love and what I’m really passionate about, which is connecting with people. I’m really using the design skills that I learned in class to create a difference,” she said.

Murphy’s work with optiMize and Innovate Blue have afforded her several unique opportunities in innovation and entrepreneurship, one of which was co-founding her startup, Adapt. Along with her co-founder and fellow optiMize member art & design senior Sidney Krandall, Adapt aims to create design-based solutions to increase independence for people who live with disabilities.

Additionally, through a sponsorship from both Innovate Blue and the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives, Murphy attended the Design Research Thinking Symposium in Copenhagen along with one of her professors in mechanical engineering.

During the symposium, Murphy and her professor collaborated with several designers, innovators and entrepreneurs from across the globe and examined a dataset following a professional design team through their design process. At the end of the conference, everyone came together and presented what they found from the data and what they thought of it. Murphy said hearing the different perspectives and interpretations of the data was particularly enriching.

“There were people there that had completely opposite findings than what we did. The conference itself was an incredible cross-cultural experience. Even though we all had very different views of what the data was telling us, we had to compromise and figure out how to understand our differences in perspectives and understand that the reason we see things differently is because we come from different backgrounds. It was an absolutely incredible experience,” she said.

Murphy also said the experience helped her learn how cultural differences can impact the design process overall.

“We saw a lot of really interesting ways culture impacted how the team was perceiving the design problem in ways that they didn’t even notice,” she said. “What seems like a really simple decision, choice, or assumption in the first stages of the design process can actually make a huge difference in the solution that you present.”

Overall, Murphy said she’s grateful to the organizations like optiMize and Innovate Blue who support her in pursuing her passions and goals.

“I could be working towards any goal in any effort, and they support me in everything that I’m doing. I wasn’t at the conference to pitch Adapt or to win funding for Adapt. But everything that I did there was so core to developing me as a designer and making connections that are important,” she said.

She said she would encourage other students involved in innovation and entrepreneurship to stay focused on their passions and remember that mistakes are a significant part of the growing and learning process.

“I think it’s just really important to understand how your work impacts people. Everything we do is about impacting people. It’s really important to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. Your path is not going to be linear. There will be challenges and you may have to backtrack and swerve around to get where you want to be. But as long as you’re moving forward, I think that’s all you need to know. And along that way, you need to remember to take care of yourself,” she said.

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