Graduate Leaving MSU with a ‘Heap of Memories’

Elena Bulthuis is a Citizen Scholar who is graduating this spring with two degrees in French and Experience Architecture. As she looks forward to graduation, she reflects on her time at MSU and the experiences she has had as a Citizen Scholar, studying abroad, studying away, interning, working for VIM Magazine, and more.

How do your two majors work together?
I’m double majoring in French and Experience Architecture. Although they traditionally don’t work together, I’m finding that both have taught me so much about what it means to ask the right questions in order to understand others and what it means to study the multiple ways in which people communicate.

Why did you join Citizen Scholars?
I joined Citizen Scholars because I wanted to know how other students planned on becoming global citizens and wanted to see how different students took the opportunity to learn from the world.

How has Citizen Scholars enhanced your MSU education?
Citizen Scholars not only helped me study abroad, but also brought “abroad” to me in the sense that they invited me to meet with people from varying backgrounds and communities and encouraged me to explore outside the requirements/classroom.

What has been the most impactful part of the Citizen Scholars program?
The most impactful was the classes offered to Citizen Scholars students and the way that professors really took into account what the students wanted to learn more about. I enrolled in a class (“Democracy in the Middle East”) that ended up being six female students, enabling us to travel outside the classroom and visit mosques, churches, and refugee centers, all while looking through a feminist lens.

Did you use the Citizen Scholar funding?
I was fortunate enough to use Citizen Scholar funding for an exchange program at the Université de Tours in France. Although my time there was cut short by the pandemic, the funding helped me be less stressed about the costs of living in a metropolitan city and I was able to fully engage in my time there.

What other study abroad/study away experiences have you had?
I also attended a weeklong study away in Silicon Valley focused on Accessibility in the Tech Industry. This was part of TeachAccess, an organization that teaches students about accessibility, which I had never heard of before. We got to visit so many tech powerhouses like Apple, Facebook, and Google and I got to meet such amazing people who are working on amazing things to make technology usable for people with disabilities. Many of us from that group are still connected through Slack and LinkedIn and it has given me a wider network of people working in User Experience and Accessibility.

What internships and jobs have you had during your time at MSU?
I was a User Experience and Marketing Intern for a professional wellbeing company based in London. I worked remotely to create user feedback surveys, wrote blog posts, and completely renovated the website. I learned how to work exclusively online with deadlines and coworkers in multiple different time zones and learned how to be self-sufficient when I didn’t always know the answer or was unable to reach my supervisor.

Were you involved with any student organizations or clubs?
I was a member of VIM Magazine all four years at MSU. I started on the Casting team, then worked as a writer for the Lifestyle and Blog teams, and then moved onto the User Experience team my senior year. Even though I have no intention of going into fashion, I now have four years of experience working for a pretty successful student-run lifestyle and fashion magazine that regularly produces content. On the UX team, I was able to be part of another website renovation and now have so much more to put in my portfolio.

How has COVID affected your college experience?
COVID was the reason I didn’t get to finish my semester abroad, which was pretty devastating as the study abroad opportunities were one reason I chose to attend MSU. However, my professors really pulled through this year by being so understanding that student’s productivity does not equate to their worth. It really showed how much they were on my team and cared for my success and personal well-being.

What are your plans post-graduation?
I plan on taking a year off and becoming an au pair for a host family in Germany or becoming a teaching assistant in France. After that, I want to find a job as a UX copywriter, designer, or researcher in New York City.

How do you think Citizen Scholars will help you in your career?
Citizen Scholars already taught me so much that you never know enough about the world, which has translated easily into my education in User Experience Architecture. I’m constantly reminded that I cannot assume to know what’s best for the user, that I need to fully understand all of my user’s goals and motivations before I can design a memorable online experience for them.

Do you have any advice for people who want to go down a similar career path as you?
Just do it! User Experience is such an exciting part of academia because it is constantly evolving, and in my experience that has meant that the professors at MSU are willing to cater your studies into what interests and feeds you, as long as you are engaged in your learning. I’ve also learned that your college major does not always necessarily equate to your future career. With XA, it feels like you can go in any direction with your degree whether it’s project management, research, writing, programming, etc. Technical skills are the foundation, but you can make valuable changes when you are educated in the empathetic, human, and cultural.

Do you have any parting words you’d like to share with the university?
I came to MSU without a declared major and looking for an adventure. I’m leaving MSU as a confident lifelong learner with a supportive network and a heap of memories.