Maggie Walsh ‘17: Virtual Ethnography
After four years of ‘adventure,’ Maggie Walsh ‘17 says she’s ready for whatever comes next. The IMA major from Syracuse, New York talks about taking on interactive coffeeshop installations, her passion for ethnography, and how to make the most of one’s passion by redefining ideas of success.
Why did you choose to study at NYU Shanghai?
I never used to think of my life being an adventure as much as a series of obvious “next steps.” But being at Candidate Weekend in New York, I was convinced I could handle an adventure. I met the students who would be my future classmates in Shanghai, and I liked that a lot of people hadn’t come from the same situation as me. I also was taken by Interactive Media Arts Professor Clay Shirky’s sample class; I remember coming back from that class and being so inspired by the transformative power of the media. Finally, the main reason I wanted to come to Shanghai was because I didn’t know what it was going to be like; coming to China was broadening my experience over choosing something socially expected.
What do you enjoy the most about your studies?
I love learning about different communities, from the ladies who meet every week to dance on Century Ave--whom I have got to know and even invited to our campus to give a dance lesson--to the children of migrant workers in Shenzhen for whom I designed a tech workshop.
One of my main areas of study is how technology influences communities, so while studying away first in London then in New York, I interned at HashtagNYU. My internship was about creating and curating content about NYU’s global sites.
And you ended up majoring in Interactive Media Arts.
My favorite part of IMA isn’t the coding or the tech, it’s everything behind the tech: how do people use it, why do people use it--the cultural and psychological things. Using ethnography in tech has been my favorite part of IMA. When you’re building a prototype, it’s important to me to ask why build it? Who are you building it for? Have you met them? Are they actually going to use it? When you begin to know the people you are building for, you really begin to understand their needs and user experience--not just designing what you think they need.
Tell us more about your research.
My capstone project involved defining a community, studying it and creating an interactive installation for it. I chose to get to know Shanghai’s burgeoning coffee scene, specifically Seesaw Coffee--where I interviewed customers, baristas, and observed what was going on, from what customers ordered most to where they would sit and when.
I reached out to Seesaw with a few different ideas for building a community around their brand, and the one that they chose was an app that customers would discover through scanning a QR code displayed on each table. The app allows you to upload a photo which is then sent and printed out in another Seesaw location in Shanghai--to be hung up on a display board. I connected the stores in Jing'an and on Century Ave.
What are you looking forward to after graduation?
I really look forward to taking more risks. Just like choosing NYU Shanghai, I want to continue challenging myself with what I’m uncomfortable with--it makes me happy to use unexpected moments as a way to find out more about myself and to continue growing. There’s a possibility I’ll accept a job offer in Germany, where I’ll be a digital strategy manager for Digital Imaging. They want me to guide them through the processes of bringing their tech up to speed with the 21st century.
Any advice for peers and underclassmen?
I’d say to everyone: Don’t shy away from something because you think your work isn’t good enough. Don’t hold back from submitting a paper you wrote to a conference just because you aren’t a major award winner. You’ve got to sell your own passion. You have to believe in your own work. If you believe that what you’re doing is the right thing, people will listen and follow you. Let your passion shine through your work.