Eye for design attracts awards for SIAT grad

June 06, 2016

By Marianne Meadahl

Rachael Eckersley may have followed her boyfriend’s lead into SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology, but the path that unfolded has been her own.

With her sights originally on engineering, she changed gears and went on to receive the Faculty of Communication, Arts and Technology’s fellowship award, given to students who excel academically and also have an interest in research. The award provides $4,000 toward 240 hours with an FCAT faculty member over one or two terms.

With an innate eye for design, Eckersley was soon paired with SIAT professor Alissa Antle, contributing art and ideas for creative screen-based systems during her undergrad studies.

She worked on several key projects, including the c̓əsnaʔəm – the city before the city exhibition. The interactive project, a collaboration with the Musqueam Indian Band, the Museum of Anthropology and SIAT, received the 2015 Public History Prize from the Canadian Historical Association.

Among other projects, Eckersley also contributed to Antle’s mindfulness app, which was piloted with traumatized children in Nepal and found to significantly improve their ability to stay focused in class. Another, Youtopia, is an interactive planning activity for elementary school children and was developed to investigate issues of how to design and evaluate childrens’ collaborative learning applications using digital tabletops.

Eckersley, along with a dozen other students, also toured northern Europe as part of the 2013 Dutch Design Field study program with professor Russell Taylor. The experience involved interviewing 20 prominent Dutch designers on everything from products to graphic design and included side trips to other regions.

Instead of winding down, the summer of 2016 promises to be a little more structured for Eckersley, who also worked as a SIAT teaching assistant. She has signed up for a six-week web development boot camp at Vancouver’s Lighthouse Labs, something she hopes will also mentally prepare her for the task of finding a job as a designer.

“It may not be the kind of summer most grads go for,” she says, “but I’m ready for the challenge.”