Carnegie Mellon University

Headshot of Daryl Choa

Creativity for Good

Supporters create opportunities for students to put their artistic and technical skills to work for community organizations

By Sarah Burke

Since 2013, the Creative Good Fund has created meaningful hands-on learning experiences for graduate students in Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center.

Thanks to generous support from the CMU community, 10 students — and counting — have had the chance to use their skills to have a positive impact on nonprofit organizations.

The Creative Good Fund provides each ETC student with a stipend to cover living expenses, removing financial barriers to professional development opportunities that would otherwise be out of reach.

We recently caught up with Daryl Choa, who earned her master’s degree in entertainment technology in 2020, to learn about her 2019 experience at Two Bit Circus Foundation in California.

In addition to advancing the foundation’s educational mission, Daryl developed valuable skills and prepared for her career. Today, she works as a producer at PBS NOVA Labs.

What were your main projects at Two Bit Circus Foundation?

My role was to reimagine old-school carnival games with new technology to engage students in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) learning. Over the course of the summer, I developed a proposal for a carnival-themed energy exhibit at the Kern County Museum, built games with alternative controllers and helped to fabricate a 3D print pen “escape room” experience. This meant that no two days were ever the same at 2BCF! Some days I would be teaching myself to code in Unity, other days I could be laser-cutting prototypes, trying to get a 3D printer to work or volunteering at our summer camp

What did you find most rewarding about this experience? Most challenging?

The most rewarding part was seeing people actually play with the experiences that we created and liking it! Being able to bring joy and delight to students, while still teaching them STEAM topics, was gratifying. The most challenging part was that I was often doing things that I had never done before, which meant that I failed...a lot. At one point, I started a fire in the laser cutter (which I’ve been told happens pretty often). Luckily, I was working with an amazing group of creatives who supported me every step of the way.

"Being able to bring joy and delight to students, while still teaching them STEAM topics, was gratifying."

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How did your CMU education prepare you for this opportunity? What new skills did you learn?

I had experience from the ETC in how to rapid prototype, design experiences for multiple platforms and manage a production pipeline. But I didn't have experience in fabricating, which is what I wanted to learn. Over the course of the summer I learned how to laser cut, 3D print and do some basic programming in Unity. With these skills I was able to build physical prototypes quickly. That meant that I had to get comfortable with failing fast and often.

In addition, while I learned about how to design interactive experiences in school, implementing it in the real world was very different. Since 2BCF worked in at-risk neighborhoods, we had to consider the limitations of resources, time and staff when designing our experiences. This came in handy for my project the following semester, when I worked on an installation for the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh.

How did this experience help to prepare you for your career?

Aside from learning new skill sets, I also learned about where I feel most comfortable working in a project. Despite my best intentions to focus solely on fabrication skills, I found myself always gravitating towards a producer role. I realized that ultimately, while I love to do the creative work, I enjoy supporting my team more and getting the project to the finish line. That was a really important revelation for me to have since it allowed me to better focus my time during my last year of graduate school. It also allowed me to have a clearer picture of what types of roles I was looking for after I graduated. 

Read more about Daryl’s experience at Two Bit Circus Foundation on her blog.

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"I realized that ultimately, while I love to do the creative work, I enjoy supporting my team more and getting the project to the finish line."

Reinventing Internships • Future of Research • Creativity for Good

Read more to discover how the CMU community is changing students’ lives — so they can change the world.