We’re a few weeks into my second semester here at SNC, and I’ve now settled into a new routine. I thought I’d reflect on what I learned an accomplished in my first semester now that it’s firmly behind me.
Working on the Bonhoeffer project and working at my station at the Tech Bar taught me about myself, and it gave me new tools to use going forward as an employee, as a student, and as a person. The tools I’m talking about have been dubbed Digital Competencies by Bryn Mawr College (explore them here), specifically those filed under Critical Making, Design, and Development.
Working to create a virtual tour involves a range of skills, some of which I already had when I started my fellowship, some of which I didn’t, and all of which I developed and strengthened this semester. To a degree, I’ve tried on the shoes of a design career: I had to use design thinking (5.2), which is artistic and curious as well as client-focused and methodic; I had to start using algorithmic thinking (5.1), which is essentially coding; and I had to refine my project management skills (5.3), which are the strategies one uses to guide a project from an idea all the way to the culmination of said idea.
Interestingly enough, all these skills intersected at my job, but I refined them and drew on them in other aspects of my education and life, too. I took an introductory design class this semester, and something we really stressed in that space was an iterative artistic process; that is, quickly and exhaustively drafting versions of ideas as a means of refining them. Without even realizing it, I’ve been using this same process as I make more versions of the virtual tour: I make a sample tour, evaluate it myself, present it to my bosses and get feedback from them, and then repeat the project until we’re all satisfied (except I haven’t gotten to that point yet here at work, ha). The interaction with my bosses also resembles interaction I might have with real design clients in the event that I actually make a career out of design. I have to realize (1) that my job isn’t necessarily about creating what I like, and (2) that my clients might not always be single individuals. Rather, my job is to use my grasp of accessibility and aesthetics to build something that fits my bosses’ needs and visions, as well as to balance the sometimes conflicting demands of the various people overseeing my work. These criteria, as well as the limitations of the programs I was working with, forced me to get creative to fix our problems while staying within those limits. I’ve had to adapt to a new, client-centered thought process, a skill that will help me in the future should I take on design clients as a professional.
Aside from teaching me a new way of thinking, the skills I’ve been introduced to through my work have made me interested in learning to code, and as such have influenced the classes I’m enrolled in this semester: I’m taking an introductory computer programming class to learn the programming language C++. It’s a practical skill to have because it gives me new ways to solve problems.
In the past semester, I feel I’ve also gotten better at thinking long-term (my fellowship has a two-year timeline) and trusting the iterative process I mentioned earlier: it’s easier for me to ask for help, communicate with my peers and bosses, and troubleshoot problems I run into. I know how to make a game plan that defines a project’s direction and my end goal.
Overall, I’m happy with my first semester as a research fellow. I think I’ve developed a lot of collaborative and technical skills that’ll serve me well regardless of where my career takes me, and I have a better understanding of how I work and the type of environment that’s most conducive to my process. I’ve built valuable relationships with my bosses, peers, and a number of St. Norbert professors, and I know I’ll only continue to cultivate those relationships as I spend more time here at the Tech Bar.