Senior Finds Solutions with Design in Mind
By Heidi OpdykeMedia Inquiries
Senior Andrea Benatar works to make interactions meaningful. Carnegie Mellon University has honed her skills to make that happen.
"I fell in love with the School of Design the first time I visited," said Benatar, whose major is design with an additional minor in photography. "The school offers a lot of flexibility while never sacrificing the core foundational skills. It's a tough balance to strike between knowing the rules and breaking the rules."
Students in CMU's School of Design work to see and solve problems in a globally connected and independent world. Benatar takes that goal a step farther, said Arthi Krishnaswami, an adjunct of practice, who has worked with Benatar for several years. She said that the past few years have been challenging for all students, but Benatar has risen to the challenges put before her.
"While it's clear that she is empathetic, involved and cares deeply about the world, she is able to focus and reframe the problems of the world to transmute them and make positive change," said. Krishnaswami, who graduated from CMU in 2006 with a master's degree in communication planning and information design.
Benatar has helped others learn at CMU, as an academic coach with the Student Academic Success Center and a teaching assistant for Design for Social Innovation and the first-year studio, Survey of Design.
"Andrea is fantastic," Krishnaswami said. "She's a thoughtful, organized collaborator on projects, and is supportive of all students in the courses as a TA."
While at CMU, Benatar conducted research on transition plans for young adults with autism who have aged out of high school. The project began during her sophomore year in Krishnaswami's Design for Social Innovation course. She then pursued the idea as a yearlong independent study.
"Students after leaving high school can end up on 30-year waitlists for post-secondary programs. Furthermore, there is really a lack of affordable, accessible alternatives and planning resources for students and families," Benatar said. "I wanted to create something that could help parents consolidate and customize the resources available to them."
She assembled a team of students to create a service called Transcend. The prototype is being developed by John Quinlan, a junior in the BXA program studying computer science and arts; Kelly Wang, a junior in computer science; and Yo-Lei Chen, a junior in psychology and human-computer interaction; with Krishnaswami and Wayne Chung, an associate professor of design, serving as advisers. She said she is hoping the team and others moves forward with Transcend after she graduates.
"I think my own research and expertise can only go so far, and there are better people who can take the project and run with it now," she said.
Benatar's interests within the design world are varied. Last summer, she interned at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Previously, she worked with Krishnaswami for the nonprofits Community Success Institute and Brooklyn Lab Charter School, and at Beyond Design, a firm in the Greater Chicago area where she grew up. At CMU, she also served as the executive co-chair for Design League, a student organization that works to foster a sense of community within the school.
Thanks to her thoughtful approach to work, she was awarded a Lee Goldman Scholarship through the School of Design.
Her advice to students looking to enter the field of design: Stay open to possibilities.
"Be open to exploring different avenues of design and parts of the university. Take advantage of classes not related to design, too, because you never know what might pique your interest," she said. For Benatar, English courses have changed her work in subtle ways. "Anything that expands your knowledge and awareness of the world around you is good to learn."