Preparing for Thesis Festival 2019 Interviews with Graduating Students

by Jason B. May 10, 2019

The final semester has just come to a close and second-year students have finished their prototyping. This year's projects range from healthcare communication projects to a loan service for businesswomen in rural Vietnam. The grueling process of research, interviewing, prototyping, testing, and validating all culminates on May 13 when students present their thesis projectss. Stories of dumpster diving and musical therapy tools for the disabled are just some of what await us on that auspicious day. 

We spoke to two current students to understand their perspectives. 

Kinza Kasher Thesis Topic: Multiple sclerosis (MS) symptom management

Can you summarize your thesis in 30 seconds?

Kinza: I really hate the way MS affects families in terms of breakdown in communication. Often the person with MS feels that they're alone, they're isolated, they cannot share their burdens with other people, and their families unfortunately become part of that as well. Seeing their loved ones break down day to day really takes a toll on their family members. What I decided to do was tackle the communication aspect of it. I developed a device that helps MS patients communicate without being a burden. I designed an app which helps families understand MS better. By merging the gap of communication and building more awareness about MS in families, I hope to take away the communication gaps that MS brings with it. I'm hoping that this makes the lives of these families better. This is something I wish I had for my family and my mom. 

What were you told about thesis prior to your second year?

Kinza: I was told you want to do a topic that you are very excited about because it lasts a whole year. Looking back at this past year, it's the one project that stands out. 

What has been the most difficult part thus far? 

Kinza: I wish I was able to articulate my project better. I know that comes with time and practice. Towards the very end it was more of a rush to get things done and made. In the end it really comes down to telling the story about your project. 

How do you feel now that it's almost over?

Kinza: I feel excited I get to go and pitch it to Celgene, a pharmaceutical company. The company puts out a challenge every year and it happens to be about MS this time. I'm excited to see where this might go, but I'm also excited to do something beyond my MS project.  

Vietnamese vendors in a market

Angie Ngoc Tran Thesis Topic: Micro-loans for Vietnamese businesswomen

Can you summarize your thesis in 30 seconds?

Angie: I'm designing a loan service that helps financially underserved female market vendors in Vietnam achieve financial security. I always knew I wanted to work on social impact in my home country. A year ago I found out that finance is one of the best tools to create a huge impact on a community. If you can help someone with their finances it has ripple effects throughout their life.  As I dug deeper into financial inclusion, I found out that women tend to be much more financially underserved than men. But I knew if you invest in women, you invest in the future.

What were you told about thesis prior to your second year?

Angie: I saw glimpses of it from our upperclassmen. It depends how much effort you want to put into it, because along with thesis, you're going to have job hunting and everything else. I didn't know what I wanted to do back then but I knew I was excited about thesis. 

A graphic portrays barriers to entry for female Vietnamese vendors

What has been the most difficult part thus far? 

Angie: Communicating it outwards. My approach to thesis is enterprise oriented. At the beginning when I presented it to a group of designers, I used a lot of business jargon and it was hard for them to get what I was trying to do. I had to learn how to communicate in a way that they could understand what I was trying to do.

If you could change one thing about your process so far what would it be?

Angie: I would have tapped into the community of female market vendors sooner. I didn't know I wanted to focus on women and small business owners, so it took me a while to figure out which community I wanted to design for. At the beginning it was hard. Those people don't want to talk about loans. It's sensitive information. At the beginning it seemed hard to penetrate the community. I thought a lot about how to get them to trust me to make them share personal information. After awhile I found out there are certain connections within the community, that if you know those connections it's a lot easier. 

How do you feel now that it's almost over?

Angie: I think I got the most out of my thesis. I got to do what I'm passionate about. I'm working on something I'm really interested in and I know my career path is in the financial technology industry. I prepared myself for it and I got a job out of it. I got everything, every single thing out of my thesis. I got connected to a community in Vietnam too. I'm going to a meditation retreat before starting starting as a UX designer at Kabbage

Make sure to see Kinza, Angie, and their fellow classmates present at the 2019 MFA Interaction Design Thesis Festival on May 13, 2019 at the SVA Theatre in New York City. Can't make the event? Watch a livestream here

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