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I moved my things out of the iSTEP house today and biked 15.5 kms to the house that I grew up in. It was a lovely ride that took a little more than an hour. It also gave me time to reflect on everything that happened over the last ten weeks.

I traveled back home after two years to work with Mathru School for the Blind in Bangalore, India through TechBridgeWorld. This all started when I’d decided in my second year as a master’s student at CMU that I want to spend my summer after graduation working in the field where I can apply my design research skills to real problems faced by underserved communities. I saw a poster for iSTEP in Margret Morrison, wrote down the details on my phone as a reminder and applied a week later. After multiple rounds of interviews I was told I was going to be on the team. Within a week I had to figure out if leaving the US in the summer would affect my visa status. I dealt with this a few times over the course of the year. I was told I might not be allowed back into the US etc but I was very sure I wanted to be a part of the iSTEP team and worked towards it. I’m glad that I persisted.

Last week I was talking to a reporter from a leading national newspaper and she was trying to figure out how she was angle the story about eight CMU students who traveled to India. She said, “This is a little difficult because you’re not working in the field that you studied”. I laughed. People are often mistaken. They hear design and assume I’m a graphic designer. What they don’t realize is that that is a small part of what I actually. I design the way people communicate with one another. I design experiences that people have with the world around them. I also design interfaces. Sometimes these interfaces are communication mediums (devices, websites). Sometimes they are educational platforms, services, non-profits or content on a website or in a book. One of the important things that we’re taught at CMU is to empathize with the user. You’re not told where to put the button, you’re asked to step into your user’s shoes and then make the decision. You ask. You test. You learn. You then apply in the future of other similar problems. What I have learn over the course of the last 10 weeks is valuable to me as a designer and a human being. Understanding and evaluating devices available for non-sighted users and designing low cost non-visual interfaces has been a great learning experience. How many of us designers actually watch the end user use our product over a period of time?

Working with a very talented team made my work easier. The feedback from the user test was usually incorporated into the next round of software immediately and within a week we were ready to test again. You day’s schedule changed based on what you had to get done that week. Sometimes I would be making friends with our community partners, testing with students and documenting my research so that the research group in Pittsburgh all in one day.

We (iSTEP interns) all learnt. We all grew together. We all made friends and we hope that we made a big enough impact that the staff and students at Mathru will miss us on Monday. I know I’m going to miss them. I’m also going to miss the other seven interns who made my summer a wonderful learning experience. Thank you and thank you TechBridgeWorld for giving me opportunity to work, love and deliver.

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