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Does this City work for Me?

johnbonanoWe often dream of faraway places we will one day travel to. We hope this travel will either help us attain the job of our dreams, the vacation we always hoped for, or provide the escape route that arrived in just the nick of time. But what happens when you finally arrive at your destination? What happens when you actually have to live in the city you always dreamed about?

That is something that one of our MPI Alumni John Bonano set out to discover.

Recently John made the decision to start over. But instead of choosing to simply relocate to a city he found a job in, he decided to take the cities he was curious about for a test-drive.

He told me, “there’s something about being in a new city, you immediately know whether or not you belong there.” John knows for him personally, that means living in a city that is close to nature. In the cities he has visited so far, he has seen how access to nature can dictate the culture of an area. But more importantly, he has found that access, or lackthereof, can affect your work/life balance.

As I am sure many of us can agree, “There needs to be more synchronization between what you do for pleasure and what you do for your career… People need to travel, get away from their jobs, take a break.” It can be disappointing if you relocate to a city and discover, you don’t have access to the kinds of things you are interested in. Or even access to the things or people you need to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

This can be tough to focus on especially straight out of school, or when you are trying to get to the next level of your career. John noted that this kind of tunnel vision can be dangerous, especially when, you don’t think about how “when you are doing all these amazing jobs, you also have to have a normal life.”

But while John stressed the importance of taking the time to figure out what you want, he also stressed the importance of taking a leap of faith and going outside your comfort zone. For him this trip has enabled him to learn how to be ok with the unknown, take risks, and focus on just the essentials.

He likes the fact that what he is doing now is similar to what he learned at the da Vinci Center because, “If you have the mindset of innovation, barriers do not exist. There are a million things you can do. You can create your own world, in your environment in anyway you want. What I am realizing now is, I can do anything I want to. I can go anywhere I want to.”

From MPI to IBM

“Innovation starts when all other avenues have been exhausted” according to Lauren Pleveich, a May 2015 graduate of the Masters of Product Innovation program. Lauren is now working as an Experience Architect at IBM Interactive Experience, but this wasn’t where she thought she was going to be initially.

A graduate of VCU Arts with a major in Painting and Printmaking, Lauren considered several career paths, including teaching and creative advertising. She initially started down that path by getting her Master of Fine Arts in Painting at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, but began to realize that was not the career she wanted to pursue.

Lauren’s decision to return to VCU for the MPI program was in part due to her experience in the certificate program as an undergraduate. Though she had worked on a project that she admitted to be less than glamorous in nature, she says that’s the experience to which she can trace her interest in product innovation.

“Between the team dynamics, the client rapport and working with users who were genuinely engaged, I found my passion for products. It took getting another masters in a different field to realize that though. Ah well, better late than never!”

Similar to her education, Lauren never expected to be working for IBM, nor had an interest in doing so at first. “I was very happy where I was working at the time, but decided to go to a talk by an IBM creative because I had no idea they even did creative stuff (don’t tell anyone).”

IBM Interactive Experience does just that, design user experiences, most notably for websites like the PGA Masters Tournament. As an Experience Architect, Lauren works between the research and design roles, allowing her to make use of the design thinking skills she gained through the master program.

In her work at Interactive Experience, she says she most enjoys figuring out the challenges formed by both the target users and the technologies used. “Technology has the power to change a lot of things. It just needs someone to provide the why.”

Three months into her new role at IBM, Lauren is very thankful to the master program for preparing her for the cross-functional work she does. “I’ve worked with engineers, business analysts, and other creatives and the one thing the da Vinci Center did very well was prepare me for that kind of situation.” Specifically, she’s been able to be confident in her own abilities, comfortable  not knowing “all the answers,” and instead pulling on the strengths of her teammates.

Thinking back to the master program, Lauren noted an odd difference between the first and second year of the program. “I think it’s a weird thing to show someone the importance of teamwork, but to then forgo a team project the last year.” She encouraged the incoming master students to listen, explore, experiment, and play, but most importantly, to “be productive with your time around smart people.”