Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Choosing the Right Fit

I always thought that applying to graduate school would be the hardest part of the application process. But after the personal statements and resumes were written, I had an even more difficult challenge that I had to face: selecting a graduate school.

Choosing a graduate school was a difficult decision for me. The idea that a single decision would not only alter where I would live for the next two years but affect my employment prospects and other future opportunities was very stressful. During the application process, I half hoped that the schools would make the decision for me by either accepting or denying my admission, and there would be a very clear choice in the end. However, when you have the choice among multiple reputable schools, how do you know which one is the right school?

When deciding on a school, you may be faced with several important variables including: financial aid/scholarships, courses, prospective employment after graduation, and your other areas of interest. The truth is that there is no easy answer. When selecting a graduate school, it is important to think about what factors are most important to you and what you hope to get out of the program. A few factors that were important to me in selecting a graduate school included:

Population Diversity:
Graduate schools can vary greatly in student population. Some graduate schools are geared towards working professionals and may provide more night courses but fewer opportunities to interact with other students outside of class, while other schools may have a larger proportion of students directly from undergrad. UMSI is a mix of these two. UMSI students have varying levels of experience. Within any group of students, you may find someone straight from undergrad as well as someone with 2, 5 or even 10 or more years of experience. This diversity provides students with the opportunity to learn from students with different backgrounds and allows for a richer learning environment.

Focus: Graduate schools may also differ in terms of focus. Some professional degrees are accelerated and do not allow for students to explore different areas of study or maintain part-time jobs outside of school. You may want to explore the field of information, gain more experience through a related part-time job, or you may be interested in pursuing research or a PhD. UMSI is flexible in that it allows students to explore their interests while still obtaining the technical and real-world experience to be successful in an information related field.

For me, I wanted a school that would provide me with the skills needed to become a successful UX designer and give me the opportunity to grow as a person. I wanted to explore opportunities outside of the classroom to develop my technical skills as well as better understand the type of organization I would like to work for after graduation. I’m currently in my last semester of school and I’ve had the opportunity to do more than I ever thought was possible. In just under two years at UMSI, I:
  • participated in a data dive: a 36-hour event held in service of several nonprofits who seek to explore their datasets and discover creative answers to their research questions,
  • was selected to present and won first place in the 2014 student CHI competition,
  • work(ed) part-time at GE for the Enterprise Architecture team, High Impact and Innovation team, and Customer Experience team.
  • was part of the Global Information Engagement Program (GIEP) where student teams are paired with organizations in India to develop solutions for their organization, and
  • participated in UMSI’s Alternative Spring Break, where I conducted usability testing for the Chicago Public Library. 
  • Attended the Grace Hopper Convention.
  • Participated in the NY Innovation Trek where we pitched ideas and gained feedback from different entrepreneurs and executives in New York.
It’s been a very busy couple of years, but I do believe that I made the right choice, and that UMSI has provided me with opportunities that I would not have had at any other school. All of these activities helped me learn more about UX in the real world and have given me the chance to not only hone my professional skills inside the classroom, but outside too.

Choosing a graduate school is not always an easy decision and not all graduate schools are the same. I hope this post helps clarifies some of the differences and factors that you may want to consider before selecting a school.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Non-Traditional Student? No Problem

Below is a blog post written Dan DiNicola about his experience as a non-traditional student at UMSI. I encourage you to read this post even if you're a more traditional student because Dan shares some great advice and insight into the program and Ann Arbor.

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In the Fall of 2014, I began studies at UMSI, fifteen years after graduating from The University of Michigan with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science.  Deciding to focus on Human-Computer Interaction meant I would be stepping way out of my traditional comfort zone. Now in my second semester, I feel this program is the best decision I’ve made to enhance my career, and I’m grateful for the time I’ve spent here in Ann Arbor.

Employment History and Background: I am a married, fifteen-year veteran of the US Army, who became a proud father for the first time (shortly following midterm exams) during my first semester at UMSI. I feel incredibly fortunate to be here at UMSI as a non-traditional student, and I hope that sharing my experience will encourage others to pursue studies here.

Yes, I’m a Student: In my time on campus, I’ve been confused for a banker, a professor, and, most recently, a student’s parent while attending classes.  Despite the challenges of occasionally having to prove I was a student in order to receive discounts on coffee on campus, and to receive entry into some campus facilities, I’ve enjoyed my time here and have learned quite a bit from my fellow, often much younger, students. 

Admissions Office, Here to Assist: When looking into graduate programs in 2012, I was struck by all that UMSI had to offer – a unique group of students in varying concentrations, with professors and research opportunities that rival any Information program throughout the country. I decided to work with the admissions office to arrange a campus tour and class audit. It was during my visit that I decided this was the program for me. Following my visit, the Admissions office continued to work with me, assisting with the application process, checking in with me periodically, and setting the conditions for my admission, class registration, and eventual arrival.

Employer Assistance / Course Work: I was fortunate to receive a full scholarship from my employer, on the condition that I finish in three semesters rather than four. You may do well to enquire with your human resources professional to see if scholarship opportunities are available to you.  My situation has led to an increased course load. However, managing course work, group projects, and -most importantly- finding balance in my family life are still possible. For those who look to complete the program in less than two years, yes, it can be done.  However, if you’ve got the ability to spend four semesters or longer here, I recommend you consider a light course load your first semester in order to get used to being a student again.

Life Changing Events: Ann Arbor is a great place for a family to grow.  Far and away, the most critical parts of moving to Ann Arbor were ensuring adequate housing for my family and establishing proper health care for my wife and baby-to-be. The University of Michigan’s Von Voigtlander Women’s Center, along with the physicians here at University of Michigan Health Systems, have been absolutely incredible. 

Resources Abound: As a graduate student specializing in Human-Computer Interaction, I’ve found both students and faculty to be extremely helpful, patient with those with less coding experience (like me). I successfully completed a statistics class, having not taken a math-related course in years, by working hard, seeking assistance, and studying with classmates. Everybody here is eager to learn together, and promote a positive environment. I’ve found, particularly during group projects, that what I lack in some academic areas, I more than make up for with actual work experience, leadership, and teamwork. Regardless of your field of study at UMSI, do NOT be intimidated.  Hard work, along with a willingness to request help when needed, will help you succeed.

Thinking about UMSI? Things you can do to prepare include: schedule and take your GRE; schedule a campus tour / course audit; consider Code Academy or other free coding tools / tutorials (regardless of specialization, a basic understanding will help with core classes here at UMSI); and contact current students (the admissions office will help answer questions or put you in contact with a fellow non-traditional student).

Best of luck with your graduate school application process and decision-making.  Consider visiting us here at UMSI! You may just find this is the place for you.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Employment and Career Resources

This week we have some information and links to share with you regarding employment and career resources. Career development is an integral part of the UMSI experience and students are supported by the Career Development Office (CDO) throughout their time here. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the MSI degree, UMSI alumni are employed in a wide variety of roles, companies, and locations. The 2014 Employment Report is a great resource to learn more about the type of career you could have after graduating from UMSI. The report includes details on geographic location, industries, salaries, and the exact companies and roles reported by the graduating class of 2013. In 2014, 98% of the survey respondents reported professional jobs or continuing education in their chosen field and 97% of those grads reported a high level of job satisfaction.

Another way to learn more about how an education at UMSI can prepare you for a career is to check out Pathways to Success with an MSI. You can choose a field and then see recommended courses, cognates (courses in departments outside UMSI), internships, and experiences. The page also shows you positions some (but not all!) recent grads have accepted in that field.

If you’re interested in learning about the career paths of alumni in more detail, take a look at the People Profiles. Several alumni are featured in the “Faces of UMSI” and you can find older alumni profiles in the “Alumni Spotlights” section. These profiles also highlights current students, summer internship profiles, and student projects.

The CDO is also very involved in supporting students throughout the summer internship search. A professional internship is required for the program and we receive PEP (Practical Engagement Program) credits for our work. I’ve utilized several of the CDO resources in my internship search, including workshops and a one-on-one meeting with a CDO staff member to review my resume. iTrack, the CDO’s online recruiting system for UMSI students seeking internships and jobs, is also a great resource. Career development is not just an after thought at UMSI. The CDO exists to support UMSI students and alumni and truly puts a high priority on career success.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Student Events

Winter semester is underway here at UMSI and there are an endless amount of events happening at UMSI and the greater University of Michigan campus. Fun fact about UM: Second semester is called “winter” instead of “spring,” which is definitely accurate considering that I’m writing this post on an official snow day! Despite all the snow, many first year UMSI students are starting their search for a summer internship. There there have been several career fairs on campus recently to connect students with internship and job opportunities. In March, UMSI will host a Networking Fair and expoSItion of student projects. You can check out the projects from last year here. In addition to job searching, UMSI students have been busy attending speakers, workshops, expos, and volunteering for the annual UMSI Service Day. This week, I asked a few students to share their experiences participating in a few of these events and future events. I hope this gives you a better idea of student life and events around campus!

"I think that UMSI has a wonderful spirit of service, and that really comes out on Service Day. Though there are many other ways to engage in service-learning at UMSI as a student (Alternative Spring Break, the Global Information Engagement Program, Citizen Interaction Design), this is the one opportunity for the entire UMSI community to come together and serve our local community. Not only do students participate, but also faculty, staff, and their families. It's great event that UMSI looks forward to each year." - Michelle FIesta, 2nd year student and Service Day Organizer

"I'm really proud to be apart of a graduate program that emphasizes service and community impact; I believe the college experience really isn't complete without applying your skills to something bigger than yourself. Our service experience at Mitch Albom Charities really opened my eyes to the immense benefits that information science can have on a small but passionate non-profit." - Michael Nguyen, 1st year student

Group of students volunteering at WCBN, Image credit: Karl Seibert, WBCN manager, @WCBN

It was amazing to see so many startups on campus from local ones to bay area ones. The recruiters are laid back and easy to talk to. I really like how many startups are trying to solve a unique problem which makes it even more intriguing to work for one. Another bonus point is that most startups have heard of user experience designers.” - Izhar Buendia, 1st year student

“The engineering career fair brings some of the largest companies of the world on campus. This is an opportunity for SI students to ask information about the company culture and other things that might not be easily accessible online. Many times companies will actually give SI students on-campus interviews.” - Izhar Buendia, 1st year student

This year, 80 students were matched to 60 information projects in Chicago, Detroit or Washington DC. We're working with amazing organizations like The Smithsonian Institute and the Open Technology Institute. Now all of the participating students are working on fundraising for ASB. The goal is to raise $20,000 so that all students can participate, regardless of their ability to pay for housing and transportation. As a member of the ASB Leadership Committee, I help to plan fundraising events, contact organizations about potential projects and answer student questions about ASB.  Basically I get to work with a really talented group of people on an awesome service project!” - Joanna Thielen, First year student and ASB Leadership Committee

"For Alternative Spring Break, I’ll be going to DC to do data analysis at the American Councils for International Education. I’m excited to get some experience working at a nonprofit and I’m even more excited to find some good Ethiopian food in DC." - Arun Varghese, 1st year student

​2015 marks the fourth year the American Library Association University of Michigan Student Chapter has hosted QuasiCon.  QuasiCon is a semi-structured conference organized by ALA student members to provide a welcoming first professional conference experience for fellow UMSI students.  This year's conference is on Saturday February 7, 2015 and we are looking forward to welcoming our most diverse group of participants to date including students from Wayne State University and Kent State University.  This year we are doing small group networking sessions to provide a comfortable, low anxiety setting for students to meet professionals in the field of library and information science.  We are fortunate to have a very eclectic group of professionals participating including public, academic, and corporate librarians.  I am really proud of the work the QuasiCon 2015 Planning committee has done to prepare for the event and I look forward to being invited back as a professional librarian for future small group networking opportunities at future QuasiCons."
-Michelle Bass, ALA UM Student Chapter Executive Board Member, 2nd Year Tailored 2015