Chad Smith '16, who creates interactive web-based dashboard solutions for Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, was always aware of MICA's outstanding reputation in visual arts education. So when his work at STScI led him to an interest in data visualization programs, he immediately went to the College's website to research academic offerings.
I was delighted to discover they offered a program in data visualization," he said. "After attending EYEO Festival in 2013 and discovering that MICA was a sponsor of such an amazing and inspiring event, I decided it was time to reach out and get enrolled.
He had initial concerns about the Information Visualization program's online format, in part because of experience in prior online learning environments. But Smith said MICA's format worked well in practice. Program staff were responsive to user feedback to make improve technology based on the needs of the cohort, he said and added that because classes were held in real-time with an in-class chat feature, members of the cohort were able to instantly communicate, which made them feel more connected. "The people in the cohort made all the difference. We acted as a support system for each other, filling in knowledge gaps when needed and forming a tight bond of friendship. The on-campus residencies were great, especially the early ones, as they helped put a real person behind the fonts on the chat screen," Smith explained.
His final thesis project for the program, The James Webb Space Telescope Virtual Classroom, was so well received by the staff at STScI that Smith is now a part of the institute's public outreach efforts. As Smith noted, "The skills I gained from the MICA program have been fundamental in helping me take the next step in my career. I have moved from creating interactive financial dashboards to heading up the emerging technology arm of the Office of Public Outreach at STScI, where we aim to leverage such tools as virtual and augmented reality to help educate the public about current and upcoming programs in space-based telescopes."
Smith made note of the program's rigor, and said that anyone interested in Informational Visualization should "be prepared" to work hard. "It isn't easy, but the most rewarding things in life never are," he said.