XA Student Kate Whalen Spends Summer Interning with Ford

Senior Kate Whalen is an experience architecture (XA) student at Michigan State, and this past summer she completed an internship with Ford Motor Company. During her internship, Kate worked as part of Ford’s User Experience (UX) team in Dearborn, MI, where she undertook several research and design projects. In particular, much of her work focused on creating successful user accessibility in vehicles for elderly people and individuals who may have had a setback that inhibits their ability to operate a car in the way they are used to.

Kate explains that she was particularly interested in working with and designing for elderly people. At the beginning of her internship, her daily work included crafting research questions and plans as well as visiting local nursing homes, community centers, and disability networks in order to gain more insight into the lives of those she was trying to help. “That was my favorite part, because I love talking to people,” she says. “Getting into their brain and listening to them talk about their experiences was super cool for me.” Another portion of Kate’s internship focused on strategy and design. This also required an interactive approach, where Kate would spend her time brainstorming and collaborating with her UX colleagues at Ford.

During her time in her internship, Kate learned how user experience and design projects are done in an industry setting and expanded her professional toolkit. She also learned the importance of collaboration and teamwork, which she says is one of her main takeaways from her time at Ford. “You can’t progress forward without other people helping you,” she notes. “Everyone has great ideas and opinions, and the ideas that you have are going to exponentially expand when you include others into that process.”

Kate credits much of her success in her internship to courses she completed as an XA major. She says she was immediately fascinated by what the XA major had to offer, particularly its emphasis on creating seamless experiences that keep users engaged and provide them with the best experience possible. One course she found particularly relevant was AL 366 (Managing Experience Architecture Projects), which she took with Professor Ben Lauren. “I think project management was one of the most useful classes I had before my internship, because you learn how to balance and manage your timeline effectively.”

According to Kate, her ability to work proactively and independently were huge assets in her internship at Ford. To her fellow XA majors, she stresses the importance of taking any opportunity you can to network with and learn from professionals who have been where you are and are now in the places you want to go.

Written and photo by Blake Hedges