CMU MHCI Statement of Purpose

Sypraseuth Vandy
Statement of Purpose
CMU MHCI Application

“Boom! Cat-boom! Ticka-ticka-boom-cat-boom! Mark it in your head. Remember to feel it and hear it! Let’s do it again, not facing the mirrors but the wall. Here we go…5, 6, 7, 8…” The words of my tireless hip-hop instructor rang deep in me as I struggled to breathe what she breathed. To understand what was being taught, I had to let go of my logical and linear mindset and instead feel, absorb, and express that beat in my bodily movements. This training has enabled me to utilize a different part of my brain and has provided me with an extraordinary outlet for my creative side. Using the lines in their bodies, movements and arches, dancers communicate an experience for an audience. While it can be a very fluid and visually beautiful performance, the audience does not always realize that it is carefully designed behind the scenes and created from the arduous work of a talented choreographer. Similarly, designers and developers undergo lengthy technical planning in order to create a smooth and effective user interface for their customers. Dance and HCI both require understanding how humans will perceive a visual, and sometimes auditory, presentation. Coming from backgrounds in both computer science and dance, the marriage of my creative and technical passions will allow me to grasp HCI from a unique perspective at Carnegie Mellon.

Throughout life, my curiosity keeps me questioning why certain techniques work over others. I strive to understand many types of users by wearing a variety of hats. Some unconventional interfaces include my work as a volunteer tutoring math to a child, a dancer articulating a piece to tell an emotional story to her audience, and a second- generation daughter translating mail to her Laotian immigrant parents. In each situation, I find myself asking again, “What works and why?” An MS in HCI will teach me better approaches to finding answers to these questions. Additionally, the dual-degree program in Madeira is an ideal environment to gain a deeper understanding of different users, such as the users of the Madeira Life Project. I am even more eager to use myself as a personal case study while utilizing the portal that would allow me to socially interact with other students in a virtual and realistic world. I have no doubt that the dual-degree program will enrich my overall learning experience beyond textbooks and class lectures.

My academic experience has prepared me exceptionally well for the MHCI program. Aside from graduating with honors, I seized opportunities in leadership and made a difference within the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) community. Inspired by the tight-knit student network that the Software Engineering Department offered, I founded the school’s first student-run computer science organization. In its grassroots stages, I ensured the department of regular student participation by surveying the needs and desires of the students. When I established the Computer Science Community (CSC) with my e-board, we were overwhelmed by the amount of interest we received from the student body. Two years later, the group has continued to thrive and stays active with a calendar full of tech talks by students and professors, company visits recruiting students for co-ops, and a variety of social and academic activities. This experience has taught me a lot about the dynamics of creating a community, effective techniques for reaching out to students, and how to overcome challenges such as eliciting and retaining member participation. In the HCI world, these core concepts apply directly to developing a social online community, much like the Madeira Life Project. In addition to my work with the CSC, I was also a Supplemental Instruction (SI) leader for computer science introductory courses. This was an experimental mentoring program that provided students with peer-assisted study sessions outside of class in order to target problem areas in historically difficult courses. As an SI leader, I came up with hands-on creative and effective learning techniques that facilitated collaboration among the students to understand fundamental computer science concepts. I used techniques such as role- playing, visuals, and real-life examples that mirrored topics like inheritance, thread synchronization, and collections to help students relate to these abstract concepts more easily. Being an SI leader was one of my most valuable experiences at RIT because it gave me insight to cognitive learning models that I can apply towards my studies in HCI.

In the commercial and industrial setting, I have been fortunate to contribute to projects that focused heavily on the user experience, particularly during my last project at BAE Systems. Rising to the opportunity of being one of the main front-end developers, I took ownership of many key features in our application for intelligence analysts. In our last deployment, I mocked up several design ideas in implementing a recommendation interface, with one of them percolating to the final release. A teammate and I developed a sliding drawer widget that enabled users to navigate recommendations without cluttering the current interface. I also worked heavily on the user interface of a tool called, “Clip It to LION,” which enabled the analysts to automatically grab text, images, and metadata (title, author, source, geotags) from any article on the Web and store it in a formatted online notebook page. Our analysts have personally thanked us for developing this powerful and efficient tool, as we replaced their repetitive copying and pasting methods with one-click clippings and one-click report publishing. As a result of our collaborative ideas and execution, our team won a 2008 Chairman’s Award for Innovation.

As curious humans, I believe we subconsciously have a desire to improve processes to make for a better, smoother, faster experience to achieve a specific goal. To take this to the next step and fulfill these desires is where I envision myself as a UX designer. I dream of designing products and services that people will be proud to use, that will help people perform their tasks best, and that will make people smile. A great product truly stands out from a poor one when designers focus on the details because they went beyond the expectations and were passionate about doing their job. Just like dance, you can differentiate between a phenomenal performance and a mediocre performance by noticing the meticulous execution of the dancers’ movements, their flawless transitions, and telling facial expressions. With my strong passion, eye for design and multi-faceted creativity, I can create products that are not only effective, but memorable, enjoyable, and desirable. I offer you a passionate student that will take her education from CMU and maximize her unique blend of creativity and technical skills to create optimal experiences for users, ultimately as a Disney Imagineer. I would love to work on a project that fuses dance with technology to create an unforgettable, magical experience for Disney enthusiasts. CMU is committed to graduating its students with the hands-on professional skills that are necessary in successfully reaching their goals. I am positive that CMU will help me reach my goals; I am therefore applying to no other program.

8 responses

5 01 2012

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10 12 2013
Prafulla Chandra

one hell of a statement .. so creative !!…

4 01 2018
Sypraseuth Vandy

An incredibly late reply, but thank you so much!!

9 12 2017

Thanks for sharing your SOP. I am currently applying to universities for masters in HCI so can really use all the help that I can get. 🙂

9 12 2017

Just curious! So did you get admission in CMU?

4 01 2018
Sypraseuth Vandy

Sorry for the delay. Yes, I did. 🙂 MHCI Class of 2011. So funny that this blog post still sees the light of day and I continue to connect with people all around the world because of it. Best of luck to you!

2 04 2019

hey I came across this article for some reasons and I realized I read it before! now I’m an MHCI 2019 🙂 thank you so much for sharing your story and I am so lucky to be in the same program with you! 🙂

3 06 2020
日常|写文书之前看的书 - Denise's

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