Three Graduates Receive XA Outstanding Senior Award


The Experience Architecture (XA) Outstanding Senior Award usually is awarded to only one student who shows excellence in the program, standing out amongst their peers. However, for the second year in a row, multiple winners have qualified for their exemplary work. The Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures (WRAC) has named Joey Dearing, Madison O’Connor, and Ryda Sundila as this year’s winners, recognizing their accomplishments in the classroom and beyond.

Joey Dearing

Dearing graduates this spring with a B.A. in Experience Architecture. When asked about earning this award, she said, “it means that my hard work and dedication to the program and the field have been recognized.”

Dearing’s hard work and dedication can be seen in her positions she has had, including roles as a User Researcher at Start My Lese, a leasing company; Associate Researcher at Erudis Games, an educational gaming start-up; and as an iOS Design Lab Coding Co-Lead.

Joey Dearing

“The fact that XA even exists is a huge contribution to my time here,” Dearing said. “I started in Computer Science and thought that my future was going to be creating products that I didn’t believe in. Now, I can code and perform research and produce interfaces and experiences that help people.”

Dearing’s study away trips to California and New York provided crucial, real-world experience that propelled her forward into her field. In Silicon Valley, she learned about accessibility and visited Facebook, Apple, Google, and more. She also attended a virtual reality accessibility conference in New York City.

I have to thank Casey McArdle for teaching my very first and last XA classes. He’s incredibly invested in the success of his students, and I always felt like I had a professional to turn to with my questions.

Joey Dearing

Dearing currently is applying for several different positions with full-time prospects in Boston and Seattle.

“I have to thank Casey McArdle for teaching my very first and last XA classes,” Dearing said. “He’s incredibly invested in the success of his students, and I always felt like I had a professional to turn to with my questions.”

Madison O’Connor

O’Connor graduates this spring with dual degrees in Experience Architecture and Journalism.

When asked about the award, O’Connor said, “It’s a huge honor! The XA program has been incredibly instrumental to my growth and it’s a place where I’ve found so much support.”

O’Connor pursued XA as a second major in order to apply it in a Journalistic context, including opportunities to redesign websites and define new print product strategies for newspapers.

Madison O’Connor

“Three years after joining the major, I’ve learned so much and have had amazing opportunities to use my skills to help real clients and users,” O’Connor said. “I’ve loved being part of the XA community, so being chosen for this award means so much!”

O’Connor has had intern positions at many newspapers, including the IndyStar in Indianapolis, Indiana; Naples Daily News in Naples, Florida; Lansing State Journal; and The Grand Rapids Press.

She also worked for The State News, applying her XA experience to a position at SNworks, an organization connected with The State News that provides web development and content management systems (CMS) publishing for community newspapers.

Three years after joining the major, I’ve learned so much and have had amazing opportunities to use my skills to help real clients and users. I’ve loved being part of the XA community, so being chosen for this award means so much!

Madison O’Connor

“These experiences have allowed me to apply what I’ve learned in the classroom and understand more about what I want to do in my career,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor is looking to continue her work in Journalism, specifically in an experience design or in a strategy-oriented role that applies what she learned in the XA department. “I want to use my skills in research, design, and storytelling to make news more meaningful, sustainable, and inclusive.”

Ryda Sundila

Sundila also is graduating this spring with a B.A. in Experience Architecture, which she called a “surreal” and “exciting” experience.

“It is an honor to be named XA student of the year,” she said. “This award serves as a reminder of all the amazing individuals I have come across during my time at MSU and the things they have helped me accomplish.”

Ryda Sundila

Like Dearing, Sundila saw Academic Specialist Casey McArdle as an influential faculty member who pushed her to reach her full potential as an XA student, exploring new opportunities and finding her passions.

One of these opportunities in particular was Sundila’s position as a Digital Accessibility Intern for MSU. Here she worked with her mentors James Bender, Brooke Knapp, Nate Evans, and Jim White, who “greatly contributed” to Sundila’s growth as a User Experience Designer.

The College of Arts & Letters offers so many opportunities for students to flourish in and out of the classroom. I am so grateful for the knowledge and experience I have gained from this internship.

Ryda Sundila

“The College of Arts & Letters offers so many opportunities for students to flourish in and out of the classroom,” Sundila said. “I am so grateful for the knowledge and experience I have gained from this internship.”

As she graduates, Sundila is looking to apply this passion and enthusiasm to a career in accessibility in Michigan, specifically in the Grand Rapids area.