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My first year at the Lab

Maureen Isimbi (from left), Miriam Swords Kalk, Leslie Daugherty, and Emily Caplinger in Bangor, Maine.
By Maureen Isimbi

April 19, 2022, will mark my first year at the Education Design Lab. It has been one of my most life-changing experiences, and I am forever grateful for such a great opportunity.

My journey to becoming a “Labbie” started earlier than most people may know. In 2020, when I was in my senior year of college, my dream job involved human-centered design and education. When I put both terms in a Google search, the Lab popped up first. I immediately searched for Lab employees on LinkedIn so I could connect with them. I connected with Miriam Swords Kalk, a Senior Education Designer, and she was kind enough to talk with me about the Lab’s work which I, of course, found fascinating.

At the time, there were no entry-level positions available. However, in the spring of 2021, I searched again for Lab career opportunities and was very happy when I found out a few positions had opened. I applied and was offered a position as an Education Design Intern alongside Bryana Ellis, who would become one of my closest friends at the Lab.

My education background is in Engineering Psychology, also known as Human Factors Engineering, which is defined by the Tufts Human Factors program as an interdisciplinary field that incorporates aspects of engineering, psychology, computer science, cognitive science, kinesiology, and others to design and build products that are easy and safe to use.

Therefore, when I started my internship, I remember feeling so happy because I was in a space where I was talking again about human-centered design and design thinking, concepts that my previous job was not covering. My Lab onboarding experience included a free course by UVa professor Jeanne Liedtka, “Design Thinking for the Greater Good: Innovation in the Social Sector,” which refreshed my mind on the basics of developing equity-based, human-centered design projects.

However, I quickly realized human-centered design in the education field is relatively different from the engineering design thinking I was more familiar with, such as conducting user research and improving user experience for tech products and machine interaction. In education, I have learned to be more intentional and conscious in co-designing inclusive solutions for learning and career needs in very distinct communities, which requires empathy and the humility to admit you don’t have all the answers. I have also had to learn many American higher education terms such as credentials, stackable pathways, and other “Lab language” like new majority learners, micro-pathways, and 21st century skills.

After five months of my insightful internship, I had the privilege of being offered a full-time position at the Lab as an Assistant Education Designer. My role has entailed assisting senior education designers, primarily those who work with the BRIDGES Rural initiative and the day-to-day operations of the Participate platform. I have also enjoyed offering support to other Lab projects such as T-Profiles with employers, XCredit, and the Community College Growth Engine Fund.

During my first year at the Lab, I have learned so much about digital transformation in education; human- and equity-centered design; and rural community development. As an international student, there are a lot of American states from which I hadn’t even met anyone, but working at the Lab, particularly with the BRIDGES Rural initiative, gave me the opportunity to visit one of our cohort institutions in Bangor, Maine, for our first in-person convening in the summer of 2021. I also recently had the opportunity to attend the Rural Day that was organized by the National Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C., where I met educators from different rural places across the U.S., such as Iowa, Nebraska, Pacific Islands, etc. I look forward to our upcoming spring campus visits to Idaho, Ohio, and upstate New York.

In addition to the exposure to different higher education terms and places, working as an Assistant Education Designer at the Lab has taught me different skills such as project management, creating spaces for community engagement, networking, the future of higher education, and leading design projects, all through team collaborations and the Lab’s frequently organized education design activities.

Going forward, I’m excited about the opportunity to continue learning and growing with my fellow Labbies. I look forward to leading more projects. I am especially interested in global projects and have joined the effort of connecting the Lab with international institutions and individuals, particularly from African regions. I plan to continue contributing to the realization of the Lab’s vision to co-design scalable education models that are more affordable, more relevant, more visible, and more portable for learners.

And for future interns and employees, I hope my experience inspires you to join the Lab and be assured that Labbies are always ready to support you with any gaps in your knowledge or experience. We all come from different backgrounds in education, age, race, and ethnicity, but we are continually creating an environment for personal and professional growth, empathy and compassion, so every team member can fully thrive in their work.

Maureen Isimbi is an Assistant Education Designer at the Lab, primarily supporting the BRIDGES Rural project and Participate operations. She’s a graduate of Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, and is originally from Kigali, Rwanda.



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