Irene Morse, a 2010 McDermott Scholar, recently finished an epic adventure bicycling across the country with the organization Bike & Build. Bike & Build is a nonprofit that enlists 18 – 28 – year – olds to bicycle across America and raise money and awareness of the country’s housing crisis along the way. They do this by fundraising at least $4500 prior to the trip and by working with Habitat for Humanity at various points along the trip.
Irene completed the Providence to Seattle (P2S) route after fundraising over $5100 for affordable housing. Her group consisted of 29 young adults from across the country and stopped at 10 different locations to help build houses for low-income families. The money they raised was pooled, and the riders themselves reviewed grant applications and awarded over $40,000 to various organizations addressing the affordable housing crisis. Irene herself plans to donate $500 of the money she raised to an organization that addresses housing issues in Jackson, Mississippi.
During the 71-day trip, Irene sent email updates to those who donated to the cause or otherwise supported the trip. Some of the hardest moments included an outbreak of scabies among the riders in Iowa, a century ride in Wyoming in extreme heat with minimal water, and climbing Teton Pass into Idaho. Some of the most exciting moments included roadside ice cream stands in Pennsylvania, seeing Hell’s Half Acre in Wyoming, and riding through the Northern Cascades of Washington.
This amazing trip was made possible in part by the support of McDermott scholars, staff, and alumni. Now that it has ended, Irene plans to find a job in Austin in politics or with a nonprofit.
Congratulations to Daniel Erwin ’01 on the release of Sync, the new storage software from BitTorrent. As an interaction designer, Daniel played a major part in making Sync functional for the public to use. He told us more about what Sync is, what his role in the project was, and how he went from original McDermott Scholar to where he is today:
I got into design because I wanted to build things. During my time studying abroad as a McDermott Scholar, I stumbled across these weird museums in Northern Europe devoted not to paintings but to everyday, functional objects. I was amazed to find that there is a field of study whose extents exactly matched my career aspirations at the time – the making of everything from spoons to cities. It took a couple more years for me to get over the idea of becoming a professional artist, but eventually I went to grad school for industrial design. I thought the coursework would help me prove my hunch that, given any object or system, I could imagine a more clever way to build it than had ever been conceived before. With the help of my professors, I eventually pushed my hubris into remission, and realized that I love working with technology.
Currently I’m working for BitTorrent, an old company by tech standards, with its origins around the time I was grappling with the novelty of connecting to WiFi networks in the UTD on-campus apartments. Many people associate BitTorrent with that era in internet history, back when any couple engineers in a garage were liable to whip up something that could change the world. While it has graduated to a new level of professionalism and polish (like my own role there, for instance), BitTorrent still has a lot of that rebellious spirit. It has taken to heart an important lesson about supporting the people who create content as well as those who consume it, but its mission is still about using distributed architectures to give individuals power over our digital world.
I’ve been working on my current project for more than 8 months, but since I don’t want to give this audience the hard sell, I’ll just say that if you find your centralized, cloud-based file storage is too slow, too stingy with space, or too infiltrated by the NSA, you should probably give BitTorrent Sync a look. It’s a bit of a paradigm shift, since it’s all based on user-owned devices (the data isn’t on any server). Explaining this new paradigm to users is my biggest challenge as a designer for Sync, but as we overcome it we’re moving above and beyond the current competitive field, so it’s the kind of struggle I’m enjoying.
As an interaction designer, my work is generally split between envisioning the interface layer of new features and functionality, convincing my colleagues that these are good ideas, and then working with developers to evolve them into something that can be built within the schedule. This generally consists of a lot of workflow diagrams, clickable prototypes, and user testing sessions, but my personal favorite is the wireframe drawing. There’s something really powerful about a prototype that’s half-way between a written, text-based description and a pixel-perfect, full-color visual mock-up of the software we’re going to build. Since it’s much quicker to understand than a block of text, and much quicker to modify than a Photoshop document, I find wireframes the ideal medium to help clarify discussions about user needs, technical constraints, and business objectives all at the same time.
You can read all about the startup lifestyle on a million other blogs so I’ll spare you the details, but here’s a photo of me in the office (yes, that’s a fully-adjustable-height standing desk!),
and of a recent work-sponsored rafting trip with a few coworkers from the Minsk office (my first time rafting since our inaugural trip down the Colorado back in 2001). That’s me in the front just enjoying the view, while the others are working hard to keep us from tipping!
Rachel Markowitz ’04 recently returned from a summer working and studying in Rwanda. She shared with us why exactly she was there, and what kind of work she was involved in during her time in the country:
As part of my graduate studies at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at UT Austin, I spent the summer in Rwanda interning on regional projects with Search for Common Ground. I honed my writing skills for reports, grants, and advocacy. I also gained in-depth knowledge about the dynamics of conflict throughout Africa and especially in the Great Lakes Region, and networked with conflict management and international development professionals.
Perhaps the most exciting part of the internship, however, was when I facilitated three community-building workshops for petty traders on the Rwanda-DRC border using my favorite tool – Ultimate Frisbee. This was a dream come true for me as I saw my passion come to life.
Congratulations to 2010 Scholar Kayla Klein on winning a graduate fellowship from the Phi Kappa Phi honors society. We asked Kayla to explain the fellowship she won and to tell us a bit about what she’s up to now:
The Phi Kappa Phi Fellowship is awarded to students based on academic merit, leadership, and service who are planning to enter professional or graduate school. I was lucky enough to be chosen to represent UTD’s chapter of Phi Kappa Phi this year. I plan on using this award when I enter into the University of Michigan Medical School in August of 2015 after taking a gap year to do research, finish my Master’s Degree in Applied Cognition & Neuroscience at UT Dallas, and plan a wedding [with 2011 Scholar Ryan Marcotte]! In the future I hope to pursue a career as a pediatrician so that I can work as a public health advocate for children’s mental health. While at Michigan, I also plan on attending a lot of football games and visiting the wonderful alumni network that we have in Ann Arbor!
Congrats on getting in to med school to Sagar Shah ’10! Sagar is attending the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaii. He has promised to spend more time in the hospital than on the beach! Aloha!
We asked Sagar about why he chose Hawaii and what his experience has been like so far. Here’s his answer:
I picked Hawaii because everything about the school seemed like a place I could see myself at when I interviewed. The people were very inviting, the school focused on teamwork rather than competition, and the curriculum was not based on lectures. Rather than memorize, regurgitate, and forget, the school focuses on PBL or problem based learning where students actively learn and teach each other. It is a method of teaching that also works as their average STEP-1 scores(boards) are ranked in the top 10 in the nation. Last week was orientation week and we had our white coat ceremony. It was a very symbolic moment, and I really think all of us were taken aback by the significance of the ceremony after taking the Hippocratic oath. Classes have already begun in full swing and I’ve started to get busy. I definitely miss UTD and my family back home. The five hour time difference isn’t always the best when you want to talk to family, but I’m enjoying my studies and learning quite a bit about the new culture here. I don’t think I’d be here if it wasn’t for the help and support of the McDermott Program. I count my blessings everyday!
Can you spot Sagar?
So you want to show your Comet pride while driving around the great state of Texas? Click here:
and vote for the new UTD license plate!
(I think I like option C…)
The Eugene McDermott Scholars Alumni Association would like to welcome and congratulate our new president — Alex Garcia Topete ’07. Alex as recently elected by the board. We look forward to more exciting activities under your leadership, and we look back in appreciation for the hardwork of outgoing president, Andres Correa ’01.
We wish the best of luck to Braeden Mayer ’09 on his upcoming trip to Venezuela. Braeden will be teaching English in Venezuela thanks to a Fulbright Scholarship.
Read more about Braden here:
Best of luck to Irene Morse ’10, as she sets off on an epic cross-country bike ride from New York to Seattle this summer. Learn about Irene’s trip and the good work she is doing at http://bikeandbuild.org/rider/7282
Above photo by Yang Xi of the UTD Mercury.
Congratulations to Brady Spenrath and Devrati Das, both 2007 McDermott Scholars, on their recent wedding!