Happily Ever After
Randy Pausch touched millions through his 'Last Lecture.' For Cheryl Platz (CS'02,'03), his impact was direct and personal.
Platz first heard Pausch speak at a Carnegie Mellon University admissions presentation.
"I was desperately seeking some way to keep my creative passions alive while pursuing a technology career," said Platz.
"When Randy explained that the Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) was the marriage of visual design, cognitive psychology and computer science, I was sold," she said. "That interdisciplinary focus is part of CMU's DNA."
Once a CMU student, Platz was thrilled to dive into her varied interests, taking classes from acting to dance to 3D animation, along with her computer science and HCII courses.
"One of the many things that I adored about CMU was its strength in so many areas I was passionate about," she said.
In the midst of Pausch's inventive Building Virtual Worlds class, and intrigued by his stint as a Disney Imagineer, Platz enrolled in the new Entertainment Technology Center, co-founded by Pausch.
She was overwhelmed when Pausch surprised her with a summer "dream" job at Disney World — an interactive design internship.
"You couldn't have gotten any closer to a fairy godfather coming down and granting me a wish if you tried," said Platz.
When the summer ended, Platz struggled with the decision to return to school, but Pausch wisely encouraged her to continue her studies.
"When I dreamt of working at Disney World, I never considered what would happen after I got the job — whether I could look past my dream and think even bigger," she explained. "CMU definitely helped me find the next steps after my own personal 'ever after.'"
During her year at the ETC, Platz discovered other influential mentors and the courage to pursue new dreams.
"I studied game design with Jesse Schell — he opened a whole new world of possibilities," she said. "And Mark Stehlik, the undergraduate advisor for computer science students, was an invaluable help."
Platz moved on to work at game developer Maxis, and then to Microsoft, where she still combines creativity and technical skill as a User Experience Designer.
"I tell people that I'm the person whose job it is to make sure you don't want to throw your computer across the room," she joked.
"As a designer, I'm constantly applying visual design principles and techniques I learned at CMU, in addition to cognitive psychology and computer science."
And harkening back to her Scotch 'n' Soda days, she's even returned to the stage as a professional improviser.
Platz takes her good fortune seriously, and, like Pausch, is committed to giving back. She remains active with the Carnegie Mellon Admission Council (CMAC) and is an executive board member at IGNITE, a non-profit that encourages girls toward technical pursuits. She encourages her fellow alumni to get involved in both efforts.
"I remember how powerful just one hour of time can be in changing the direction of someone's life. If the time I give through these efforts does that for even just one student in the way Randy did for me, then it's worth it."