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Student Spotlight: Madeline Helland & IDSA

Madeline Helland (BA ’18) is a connector. Fueled by her passion for design, Helland began to reach out to firms and studios in her sophomore year to schedule site visits and informational interviews.

Not only that, but she’s brought other Stamps students along for the ride. To date, Helland has coordinated about seven studio visits for Stamps students, making connections with Herman Miller, Chaco Sandals, Steelcase, Donut Shop, Synecdoche, Sundberg Ferar, Google, and others.

“I’m a face-to-face person,” Helland said. “If there’s something that interests me, even if it might not be directly applicable until years down the road, I want to learn more about it in a hands-on, one-on-one way. Many companies were willing to host about ten students at a time for site visits — it was unexpected and encouraging to discover how open and willing companies were to host us.”

Stamps students participate in Ishinomaki Lab workshop at Brightmoor Maker Space

Two years ago, Arwin Wang (BFA ’17) took note of Helland’s active role in creating industry connections and approached her about re-invigorating the Stamps School chapter of IDSA, the Industrial Designers Society of America, promoting the practice and education of Industrial Design. Together, the two young women laid the groundwork for an official organizational student membership and strengthened community around industrial design at the Stamps School through visits with area designers — including Professor Emeritus and Dean Emeritus Allen Samuels.

“Allen has met with us twice last year and this year to talk about industrial design. We got to go to his workshop and studio, which was great, because we got to learn more about his practice,” said Helland. “He gave us good advice as to what to look for when making a portfolio and seeking jobs.”

Building upon the strong foundation of the 2016-2017 academic year, Helland brought on two co-directors for the Stamps chapter of IDSA for the 2017-2018 academic year: Bonnie Jiang (BFA ‘19) and Yiyi Gao (BFA ‘19). At this point, the student organization boasts over sixty members with roughly fifteen to twenty attending regularly, making it one of the most active student organizations at the Stamps School.

IDSA visits Synecdoche studios in Ann Arbor

“Students want to be active when we come together as a group and not just sit through another meeting,” said Helland. “We want workshops, networking opportunities, and company visits. We’re trying hard to commit to at least one company visit each month during the school year.”

Stamps students benefit from Helland’s networking expertise as well. “To help prepare everyone for some of the visits we did this fall, I encouraged everyone to go on the website, prepare some questions in advance, and think in specific terms about what interests them about what that company does,” said Helland. “The most important thing is to just be curious. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Most people are more than happy to share their knowledge and experience.”

IDSA visits Synecdoche studios in Ann Arbor

The IDSA group at Stamps is currently working to identify conference opportunities for the winter 2018 semester. This will be the second time Helland has spearheaded efforts to connect Stamps undergraduates with conference attendance. “Two years ago, we had an incredible Penny Stamps Speaker Series talk by Suzanne Lee. During her talk, Lee said, ‘you know, if anyone is interested in attending the BioFabricate Conference in New York City, we run a student discount.’” Motivated to take Lee up on her offer, Helland brought the proposal to her academic advisor, who assured her: ‘If you can get students together to attend, we’ll pull together funding. We’d love to see students out there.’ A true connector, Helland secured five students to attend the conference in New York, including Dana Demsky (BA ’17), who covered the conference for Stamps.

“Conference attendance is so important,” Helland said. “It’s this wonderful coming together of incredibly smart people — both the attendees and presenters. You get the chance to be curious and ask questions and realize that there are things that you never imagined could exist.”

To Helland, being present and involved in company visits and conferences is just the first step in creating a strong professional network. “Some of the best things that have come out of conferences for me have come at the end of interesting conversations. I make sure to wrap up a good chat with a simple, but direct phrase: ‘if I have questions about something, can I reach out to you?’ Usually, the professional you’re chatting with will give you an email or their business card. Follow-up right away. It helps people put a name to your face. It can really make a strong impression.”

Helland continues: “Making these personal connections as undergraduates not only helps us learn new things as students, but it can help in internship and job applications. By putting a face to the name will help you becomes a person to these companies. There’s a lot of value to it.”

Learn more about Madeline Helland and her creative practice. To connect with the Stamps chapter of IDSA, contact [email protected].