Student Profiles

Published on: June 15th, 2014

Estefania Acosta

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I’m here because my education as an industrial designer has led me to believe that while math is usually referred to as a universal language, design is the universal “action”. I advocate for design in all walks of life, all-inclusive and across the board. As such, I hope to be part of a community that questions its motivations and systemic repercussions. I’m interested in a type of design that changes the behaviors around us for the better, and the ethics behind the process. I also want to explore the possibility of a design theory applicable to social work. I’m concerned by the irrational realities of the world. This is what led me to Design Studies. I’m also here because I want to unify myself, the practical and philosophical drives in me, and I’m glad to be starting this journey in August.

I’m from Mexico, where I’ve spent most of my life. I worked in Aeronautics ever since I graduated, until recently. I love words (reading, writing, looking at them, making them up) and arguing against myself. I like working with my hands, and I wish I was better at it. I’m glad to be meeting all of you soon.

Misha Volf

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I’m Misha.

Here’s a brief biographical narrative:

I used to make music. Though we perceive it to be immaterial, at its root, sound is a body-scale phenomenon which propagates through physical space. Later, I became interested in the spaces constructed for music and sound, and how those spaces affect our experience. I studied acoustics and applied that knowledge to architecture. I told architects how to make rooms sound better. Sometimes they listened.

Then, I made furniture. At first, because I needed things which I couldn’t buy. Then, because friends wanted things they didn’t want to buy. Then, because making became more rewarding than the thing itself.
My favorite things ask questions. Usually something about me, or about them, or about the room they are in. Sometimes they provide answers.

Now, I hope to spend time thinking about how perception, architecture, and objects affect our environments, bodies, and experiences.

Lisa-Mari Stenhaug

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I was born and grew up in Norway. Up until now I have lived in Oslo, where I have been working as a graphic designer. For the past year or so, New York has been my second home. I am very excited about moving here and continuing my studies at Parsons. This will be the second time I will be moving overseas -and for the same purpose. I spent three years in Australia pursuing a degree in visual communication. I loved working with typography, colors, compositions and layouts, and could spend hours doing so. Despite my passion for graphic design, I still wanted to study art and fashion, therefore after Australia, I continued my studies at the University of Oslo. It was during these years I got introduced to environmental and social sustainable design processes.

I believe a design process should not only encompass aesthetics and technical specifications, but it should also embrace environmental and social sustainability. I would like to work with design processes that are analytical and critical, in order to create innovative and sustainable designs.

Ivana Garcia

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My name is Ivana, I’m from Argentina and I’m 29 years old. I am currently living in Córdoba, the place where I grew up. In regards to my studies, I have a BA in Business and I completed my graduate studies in Finance and Balance scorecard but I have always loved art and interior design and dreamed about studying in a university like Parsons.

After I graduated from college, I started working in Deloitte & Touche as a consultant assistant and I ́m currently working in finance and quality control in a Logistics company. My most significant work experience on a personal level was owning a multi-purpose space called “The Endless House” which mixed a little bit of gastronomy, art, design and music. There you could find pieces by some of the most promising Argentine contemporary artists, unique clothes and objects for sale at the store, and listen to performances by independent musicians. While working at The Endless house, I had the opportunity to meet designers, artists and musicians who taught me a different perspective of the world and it helped me realize in what field I wanted to work which is design, more specifically sustainable design.

Regarding my personal interests, through the years I have had the opportunity to travel around the world and I realized how much I enjoy doing it. After I graduated, I went backpacking through Latin America, Europe and Africa and met people from all over the world. So that is why studying in the States gives me the opportunity of meeting new fellows and being in a completely new culture which I’m sure I will enjoy.Even though all my formal education is in Business, I have always been interested in art and design. That is why I strongly believe that an MA in Design Studies will provide me with the knowledge I need to embark in new projects related to sustainable design.

Soohee Cho

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My name is Soohee Cho. I was born in Seoul, Korea in 1991, moved to southern California in 1997, then to Honolulu, Hawaii in 2004. I graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa as an Art History major/English minor, specializing in Japanese art history.

I am particularly interested in communication design, and how design plays an integral role in the relationship between humans and the world. I have a graphic design and event décor background, and a newfound interest in interior design. I’ve had a million internships, from design and lifestyle magazines to fashion houses to art galleries, and if there is one thing I’ve learned from my varied work experience is that no matter how much you think you know, there’s always much, much more to learn. That’s why I’m here – to learn from the best, with the best of the best.

Looking forward to meeting all of you this fall in our journeys to shape the world.

Laura Sanchez

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My name is Laura Sanchez. Originally from Oakland, California I’ve spent most of the last six years working in urban development, philanthropy, and digital media. Until recently, I had never fully realized how long design has been a part of my life and core belief system.

As an undergraduate I studied History and World Arts and Cultural Studies at UCLA. Always fascinated by why people behave the way they do, or why societies function as they do– I enjoy interpreting the present through the lens of the past. Through many different experiences, I’ve come to believe that culture and identity are not static concepts, but instead fluid representations of our personal and shared histories.

This appreciation for the past is a large part of what drew me to the Design Studies program. The ability to enter any situation and understand the broader context or underlying forces shaping the present moment is critical for designers. So is the ability to imagine what could be. A bit of a retro-futurist, I’m deeply curious about how our present actions will be judged in 10 years, 100 years, or even longer!

Over the next two years, I look forward to applying my graduate studies to create new products, services, or experiences that draw on the past to imagine a better, more just future.

Quizayra Gonzalez

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Hello, fellow first years!

One day in 1986, Ramon Gonzalez decided that if he was going to have a daughter he was going to name her Quizayra. My mother agreed and a year later I was born. I am the product of two cultures colliding and everything I do supports that collision.

After a childhood half spent in the Dominican Republic, I attended The University of the Arts and became obsessed with design. I’m still obsessed with design and ecstatic to fuel this obsession in Design Studies. I’m particularly interested in how design manifests itself in a first-generation culture. My Dominican-American world is always in a push and pull scenario and I want to know how design creates/breaks that dynamic. I’m also interested in the culture that products and the ideas behind them create. This interest stems from spending time in the Dominican Republic and seeing how success is equal to the ability to buy American products. I’m excited to dive into Design Studies and explore the thinking behind the making.

I’m trained as a multimedia designer and spent a couple of years working as a graphic designer. Like many artists, I not keen on the corporate world of design but I completely believe in its power to redirect society. I decided to take a break from designing for businesses and started creating my own work. This period of experimentation was more fulfilling than any of my other design jobs and it led me to graduate school. Working for myself brought up questions about art and design that I am excited to work on for the next two years. I truly look forward to meeting all of you because I know each of you will help me answer questions and bring up new ones.

See you in August!

Anke Gründel

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My name is Anke Gründel. Originally from (East) Berlin, Germany, I have been living in New York for over four years working both as a design practitioner and educator. I have degrees in both fashion design and liberal arts with a focus on philosophy and anthropology (plus four years studying biology). While fashion often understands itself as somewhat removed from other design disciplines, it nonetheless is an important social practice that contributes to shaping individual and group identities. Thus, the artifacts created in fashion, just like in other forms of design, can in a way be understood as physical manifestations of cultural norms. As such, they are snapshots of society at a specific time. They reify certain values of an historical period and preserve them for posterity (here the crinoline, corset, and the Victorian gaze, or even the Italian blackshirt come to mind). As this is true for many fields of design, producing both physical and nonphysical objects, there can be no doubt that design, although it is evidently an umbrella term for a vast array of practices, is of crucial importance in society. Not only is it integral for historical investigations but it also creates artifacts necessary for contemporary social criticism, which may even assist in making potential predictions about future developments to help prevent problems.

While I presently teach fashion design (with a focus on sustainability) at Parsons, I plan to deemphasize my focus on fashion. Perhaps at times touching on fashion’s communicative elements, I want to investigate the relational aspect of different artifacts and different layers of society, the connection such objects have to us, and our coexistence with and dependence on them. Taking inspiration from Heidegger, Butler, Latour, Verbeek, and others, I want to inquire into the increasingly important role of design in our age. How do designers actively and inadvertently contribute to shaping us as individuals and as a society? What role do the artifacts themselves play? What ethical implications does this have for design practitioners, the objects, and their users? How does the role of design for meaning making vary in different cultures?

Ethnocentrism, I believe, is one of the worst features a designer, or anyone for that matter, can have. As practitioners, analysts, researchers, and users of design we need to understand or at least try to become aware of the intricate global connections artifacts have today. In a global economy, in which our choices and actions have consequences for people in many different cultures it is of vital importance to understand differences and similarities so that at worst we do no harm and at best we can help to address disparities.
The possibility of scratching the surface of these matters excites me, and I very much look forward to starting this program.

Mae Wiskin

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It’s pretty late and I’ve put this on the back shelf of my closet for far too long. Like most folks, I disdain writing about myself, so I’ve decided to use this profile as an opportunity to write a “flash fiction” piece. The only difference between this one and the others I regularly write is that this one happens to be non-fiction. I have thirteen minutes left. My name is Mae Wiskin and I am the product of a tiny but ferociously strong Thai woman and an overly garrulous Russian Jew from Brooklyn. I was born in Bangkok; however, I’ve moved so many times that countries often blur into one another. I have a non-rolly suitcase and sometimes write letters on my Underwood Typewriter because I adore the sound of clicks against ink and paper. I’m a creative writer, but received an honors degree in human rights law from The University of Washington in Seattle. During college I spent a year in Cairo and traveled throughout the Middle East, collecting stories, images and colorful experience. After college, I moved to Mexico to focus on my art whilst also working for a micro-finance organization in Oaxaca. I wish I could write that I’m fluent in Spanish but I’m not. I can speak a lot of languages to a shallow degree including Bemba, which is the tribal language I learned during my time serving as a global health Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia, a puzzle-shaped country in southern Africa.

I am moved by all things social justice and art, and I am profoundly excited to pursue a Masters of Design at Parsons because I believe you should never stop learning and following that which makes you truly come alive. As it stands now, I would like to unravel the notion of home, identity and community. I am somewhat obsessed with “cognitive maps,” migration, relocation, interiors and urban planning. Although I am not sure how this passion will manifest itself, I enjoy musing about unexpected homes made of unconventional materials in atypical locations, both nationally and internationally. I believe that every individual is trying to find “their place in the world,” and I would like to use “Design” in order to reimage urban spaces and help people foster community. It is my dream to work for an organization that fuses social justice with art that people use. Time’s up. I look forward to learning from all of you this fall.

Sonja Holopainen


Hello! My name is Sonja Holopainen and I was born and raised in Helsinki, Finland but have lived most of my life in the Bay Area. I just graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz in June with a B.A. in Philosophy as well as a B.A. in Art. In my art major I focused on photography and have done an extensive amount of studio work. In studying philosophy I found myself most attracted to 19th century existential philosophy as well as phenomenology and I am greatly inspired by Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Sartre.

My interest in Design Studies stems from that it is a space in which I can combine my two areas of study— philosophy and art. I’m eager to look at art and design from a philosophical perspective and use philosophy to analyze the capabilities of art and design. Even though I have an interest in aesthetics, I wish to move beyond just simple theory and explore the tangible, real consequences of design. I’m especially interested in design that has to do with the daily lives and identities of people, and for example how that is reflected through social media such as Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. I also hope to explore the overlaps between design and fashion design.

I am very excited to start this journey in August and to finally be able to scratch an itch for what I’ve always wanted to explore!

Laura Belik

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My name is Laura Belik, I’m from São Paulo, Brazil and I’ve recently graduated as an architect and urban planner. I’m passionate about the contemporary cities and its intriguing and complex dialogues. Cities represent an open field of possibilities, and its constant changes are truly a reflex of its society. That’s what challenges me the most.I’ve worked in several different fields besides architecture per se, such as arts, museums and exhibitions, research, teaching, writing, producing cultural events and so on. For my undergraduation final thesis I decided on a research about Urbanism in Detroit, MI and the collapse of modernism. This research
turned into a paper and later on an exhibition that was part of the 10Th of Architecture of São Paulo. For the past 18 months I’ve been working in a multi-media museum called Museu da Imagem e do Som (Image and Sound Museum) in a cinema and audiovisual cultural program. I’ve also focused on a few personal projects such as the “Centro e Sola”, an architectonical guided walk through São Paulo’s city center.
I guess been an architect for me represents the curiosity regarding the cities and its uses. I believe that is a discussion that goes beyond any specific field of research and concern us all. I’m looking forward to the MA in Design Studies to continue in this multi-disciplinary search, creating different perspectives.

Gene Duval

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My name is Gene, and I am originally from Montreal, QC. My journey as a practitioner started with photography and evolved to all spheres of design. I graduated from Concordia University with a degree in Design in 2013 and since I tried to stay away from the practical aspect of my field. My constant challenging and questioning of my own notions of design could not allow me to be a designer in the traditional sense. As a designer, I could only touch the rim of what it meant to be designing, as an active participant in Design Studies I can take part of the change and affect my surroundings. In this sense, I learn from the places, the people, the differences, and the experiences of all “things” I come across. For myself, design is a primary aspect of the world we live in. It is not to be mistaken for cultural elements, but is rather an agent of culture and language.Since graduation, I have been working in a merchandising company for musical acts trying to take part in an aspect of culture that is constantly changing with the people. I am constantly looking at the bigger picture where design is a small part of the solution or the problem. I am interested in the influence of history and culture in art and design related language and I am interested in the little things that define us culturally. In this sense, I am seeking at enriching my knowledge of the world I live in which at the moment is limited to an understanding of one place and practice. I am thrilled to join this program and take the leap between practice and writing in the hope of finding some answers.

Oliver Bolton

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Hi everyone! My name is Oliver Bolton and I am an industrial design graduate from the Queensland University of Technology in Australia. I am 21 years old and enjoy everything about design. My main motivation for deciding to study at Parsons was the opportunity to live in New York City, a place where design is embedded into the cultural atmosphere. My interests include sound and music, and a lot of my design work thus far has examined the potential for a deeper connection between sound and design. I am also a musician and have been playing guitar and writing music for about 7 years. I have a deep interest in Japanese culture, and have been practicing jiu-jitsu for about a year, which I plan to continue in New York.My background in industrial design has led me to take a relatively product orientated view of design, although I am extremely interested in the nature of design itself and the potential for its future use, which is why I believe that Design Studies is the right course for me. I enjoy constantly learning and believe that research has a large role to play in design. I’ve attached a link to a video about Dieter Rams, the Director of Design of Braun from 1961 – 1995, whom I admire and whose designs I have studied with great interest. His list of ‘ten principles for good design’ are an interesting examination and study of design, and speak volumes about the inherently ethical nature of design. I am really looking forward to moving to New York and meeting everyone in August!

Micki Unterberg

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Hi! My name is Micki. I was born in America but lived the majority of my life in Israel. After receiving my bachelor’s degree in Industrial Design, with an emphasis on user diversity, I started working for a studio that integrates brand identities with three dimensional commercial presentations (such as trade fairs, corporate events and sponsor’s pavilions). The interaction with the “real world”, i.e. designer vs. marketer/consumer, engendered thoughts regarding the importance and value given towards the designer and his work process. In a world overflowing with conspicuous consumption plus the need for constant changes or upgrades I believe too much is taken for granted. It’s necessary to take the moment to explore, comprehend and properly translate the more theoretical aspects of creating. It takes two to tango in the design world which is why I am interested in new modes of communication, interaction and behavior. I am adept at physically putting two shapes together. It’s the question of “why” which brings me to the MA Design Studies at Parsons, to properly examine and combine theory, methodology and empirical discussions in order to further my future of design practice. I look forward to the next two years and meeting you all!

Program Contact

Caroline Dionne, Program Director

Program Update

Parsons is not currently admitting new students to this master’s degree program. Parsons is now offering a Graduate Minor in Design Studies that is designed to complement the MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies and other graduate programs across the university in design, liberal arts, and social research.