MA Design Studies Alumni Spotlight: Veronica Uribe del Aguila

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Veronica Uribe del Aguila, MA Design Studies ‘15, will begin work on her PhD in Cultural Studies at Stony Brook University this fall. We met with Veronica over the summer as she prepared for the next chapter in her academic career. Read our interview with her below for her thoughts on academia, her memories of the Design Studies program, and to see what she has been up to since graduation!

What have you been doing since you graduated from MA Design Studies in 2015?

My plan has always been to get into a PhD program. I used to teach philosophy at Universidad Peruana de Ciencias Aplicadas (Peruvian University of Applied Sciences) and after graduating from the MA Design Studies program, received an offer to teach again in Peru. The university has mostly applied science classes, but they do also have a humanities department where I taught philosophy for architects and design students, as well as aesthetics. So I took this opportunity to return to Peru to teach in September 2015 and continued to apply for PhD programs. I kept in contact with my academic advisor here as well as Director Susan Yelavich [throughout this whole process], and eventually accepted an offer to pursue a PhD at Stony Brook University.

[In September 2015] I was invited to take part in a research group at the university where I did my undergraduate degree. The project examined Peru’s “nation brand,” something that is really popular right now. Countries are doing “city brands” and “nation brands”–they discuss how these affect democracy and how people understand citizenship. It was a long year of reading and research, and then [in June of this year] we had a conference where we presented our findings. I was studying subversive interventions through the logo of the Peru brand, Marca Perú. Specifically, how those images circulate on the web, how they were produced and reproduced, and how they were received by citizens. Now we are publishing a book of our research. 

I also took part in a Latin American Association conference this year here in New York, where I made a presentation concerning design, politics and democracy. I presented a paper on a web page that gives voice to a group of 200,000 women who were sterilized against their will during Fujimori’s government and are seeking justice. [This website invites these women to] call a phone number and tell their stories. They are then translated from Spanish and Quechua to English and made publicly available so that others can support them. [This archive is also being made as a resource] for these women to do whatever they want it if they need it for legal or political terms in order to accomplish something. In preparing this presentation, I used what I learned here in the MA Design Studies program.

What PhD program will you be starting this fall at Stony Brook?

There is no natural “next step” in academia for design studies students–[in other words,] there is no PhD in Design Studies. If you want to do a PhD, you need to shape your MA path with this in mind. I didn’t want to do art or design history, so it was really hard for me to find [suitable] programs. Instead I researched professors and academics who were doing design studies, and found a lot actually, although the programs [that they were a part of] were not oriented towards design. [For instance,] I applied to many cultural studies and media studies programs. The track of my PhD program at Stony Brook is Cultural Studies and it’s housed within the Department of Cultural Analysis and Theory.

Why do you want to do a PhD?

I really like to do research and writing papers. I enjoy teaching, as well, which I think counts for something! I am really excited to start the program and a bit nervous, too.

Do you have any long term career goals, or an idea of what you want to do once you finish your PhD program?

For now, I do want to stay in academia, but may consider other areas in the future. I have done some work in other fields–like journalism, and I enjoy writing. So that could be an option. I am open to new things, [as the design world] is constantly changing. I would love to take design classes and see what comes of that, too!

Do you have a fond memory or favorite aspect of your time in the MA Design Studies program?

I really liked it. It’s challenging because it’s very open: you need to decide which classes you want to take, and how you want to orient your degree. It’s challenging but on the other hand, it was what I needed. Because the program is really small, professors are constantly talking to you and you’re taking classes with them. It is also fun to go around and see other classes, as well as take classes in [other schools, such as] NSSR (The New School for Social Research). I really liked the program in that sense.

The kind of people that the program attracts are from diverse backgrounds, too. Each year [of students] is different. My year was [made up of] many people who were not designers–some were anthropologists, art historians, journalists, philosophers (like myself), and only a few designers–this brings a lot of different themes to our discussions, which I really liked. 

It sounds like both the cohort and the curriculum can be very interdisciplinary!

Yes. You talk to your advisor a lot because they help guide you [in tailoring your experience]. This [openness] is something I like, but at the same, that I sometimes found frightening because I didn’t know whether I was just taking every class for the sake of it, or was actually “going” somewhere with it. In the end, I think it turned out really well.

New York is one of those cities, too, where you see design everywhere–all the design projects are happening here, and you can keep the conversation going with your peers in fellow academic communities, like from NYU and Columbia, for instance.

When I was applying to PhD programs, I spent two months in New York and met a lot of people in the field who I wanted to work with. That is what happens–you meet people from other institutions and programs who end up taking classes here. Professors here also have amazing connections with important museums and institutions.

I am close friends with the people who did the MA Design Studies program with me–it was a really nice group. They are all doing different things now: one is teaching MA students in product design at Pratt Institute (she first taught here at Parsons). The program is open enough that you can decide what you want to do. One person in my cohort actually ended up at NASA designing things for them–he first wanted to write his thesis on NASA, then got an internship there, and is now working with them. Some people have begun finding and even creating new design positions. They combine fields–like anthropology and design studies, for example. It makes sense that we are all doing something different, yet we all have been able to incorporate what we’ve learned in the program into what we are doing now.

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