Vivian Shiu ’21 spent the summer of 2020 as a user experience intern on Mastercard’s Digital Networks Solutions team in O’Fallon, Missouri. There, she created graphics to ease user workflow for a call center and consulted with banks to redesign an internal payment transaction portal. As part of the redesign, she interviewed users for insights to transform a 100-page spreadsheet into an interactive, web-based program.
Later, the team asked prospective users for feedback on a preliminary design for the new tool. “They told us how relieved they were—that our design would make their workflow faster, easier, and more accurate,” says Shiu, “that they could have a better work-life balance.” Those comments echoed a theme that has reverberated throughout the Design + Environmental Analysis major’s studies in the College of Human Ecology. “It’s amazing,” says Shiu, “how design can affect people’s lives.”
Shiu later signed with Mastercard as a user experience analyst. Having a contract for post-graduate employment so early in her senior year conveyed significant freedom, Shiu says. In addition to joining rapStudy, an educational technology startup launched by fellow Cornell students, Shiu added a minor in information science.
Human Ecology defines success differently. It’s not just the mechanics of how something works, but keeping people in the forefront of our minds...
A native of Sāo Paulo, Brazil, whose heritage also combines Chinese and American roots, Shiu has made it her personal mission to embrace multiple perspectives and help her peers do the same. She served as lead product designer for the Cornell Design & Tech Initiative, a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, student organization that represents 13 majors across campus. Together, they developed such student-centered products as Samwise, a project management app to help college students plan and prioritize their academic workflow, and Carriage, an app that optimizes access to CULift, Cornell’s paratransit service for students with disabilities.
Shiu also participated in the Dean’s Undergraduate Advisory Council and the Brazilian Association of Students in America and served on Cornell’s team of International Student Admissions Ambassadors. During the spring of 2020, she studied at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, as an exchange student in international relations. “It was eye-opening,” she says, “to be in a different culture where I didn’t know the language and the barriers that come with that.”
Studying in the U.S. has been no less revealing, says Shiu—from her first encounters with string cheese and Wheat Thins crackers—to the powerful life lessons she credits to the culture of Human Ecology. “Human Ecology defines success differently,” says Shiu. “It’s not just the mechanics of how something works, but keeping people in the forefront of our minds—how things affect them, their experience, and emotions.” Growing up in Sāo Paulo, Shiu sometimes traveled through the city’s slums. Today, she sees them differently. “Before, their existence was just a matter of life,” she says, “but Cornell imbued in me the idea that I can do something about that. I realize now that design isn’t limited to a pretty chair, but extends to systems; I can be an agent of change and that’s something I want to take home one day.”