Alumna Lan Allison's experience working with the Global Innovation and Design Lab opened multiple doors, including with United Way of Pierce County.
Lan Allison’s parents didn’t “have to worry” about her. That’s because the UW Tacoma alumna and current UW Seattle graduate student in human centered design and engineering is her own spark and catalyst. She’s got the energy. But energy without focus is a kite without a string, spinning, twisting and either crashing to the earth or floating away. Fortunately, Allison is firmly tethered.
Allison grew up in Sumner and graduated from Sumner High School. Afterwards she accepted an offer of admission from Franklin University Switzerland in Lugano. Allison moved overseas to attend school. “I got to travel, to eat a lot of good food, it was beautiful and I loved it,” she said. “However, I picked one of the most expensive countries to move to and it drained my bank accounts, plus I couldn’t work because I didn’t have a work visa.”
Allison moved back home. When it came to college, she knew she wanted to attend UW. “UW Tacoma was closer and offered the program I wanted,” she said. “In my mind, a degree from UW is a degree from UW, there’s no distinction.”
Many UW Tacoma students work while going to school and Allison is no exception. She nannied in high school and returned to this position during undergrad following a brief stint at McDonald’s. “I worked for a really great family who offered me a lot of flexibility,” she said. “I played with the kids and took them to activities and did my homework during down times.”
Flexibility is an often-overlooked part of the complicated equation that determines an individual’s or a group’s success. Flexibility, in this case, is an employer who created a schedule that not only allowed Allison to both pay her bills and attend to her studies, but also created space for future opportunities.
Allison earned a writing studies degree with an emphasis on technical communication from UW Tacoma. “It sounds so boring, but I’m drawn to report writing and the more research-y side of writing where you get to dive into a subject,” she said.
Allison’s path through her major lead her to UW Tacoma Associate Professor Emma Rose’s TWRT 350 course in user-centered design. “That’s how I first got introduced to the field of human centered design,” said Allison. “I knew my skillset was research and informative writing but I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do.”
Here’s where flexibility comes into play. Allison’s work situation provided her with something unique for college students — time. Not a lot of it mind you, but enough to seek out new opportunities. Allison cofounded a user experience or UX club on campus. She also got involved with the Global Innovation and Design Lab (GID Lab). “Dr. [Divya] McMillin asked club members if they wanted to help put together the beginnings of the Lab’s website and do some usability testing,” said Allison.
Allison received the GID Award in the fall of 2019. Awardees receive $500 and get to assist with design thinking projects run by the GID Lab. Allison and the GID Lab worked with the United Way of Pierce County on its 2019 Poverty to Possibilities Summit. “The focus that year was on affordable housing,” she said. “We ran workshops in advance of the summit and helped get them prepare.”
Fast forward a few months. It’s early 2020 and the United Way of Pierce County is looking to build on momentum generated during Poverty to Possibilities. “They [United Way] reached out to Dr. McMillin and asked if she knew of anyone who knows about user-centered design and who would want to work with us on this two-year long project,” said Allison. “Dr. McMillin recommended me.”
Allison has spent the past two years as a member of Resilient Pierce County (RPC). “We are working with East Tacoma and Franklin Pierce communities on how we can make health and human services more accessible,” she said. The team, which includes representatives from the Washington Department of Social and Health Services, George Washington University and UW Tacoma, started by sending out surveys to area residents and has now shifted to conducting individual interviews and focus groups over Zoom.
Members of RPC presented some of its initial findings during the United Way of Pierce County’s 2020 Poverty to Possibilities summit. “The GID Lab actually helped us prepare community stories based on the user research we’d conducted,” said Allison.
The project concludes in November and the GID Lab will once again be involved, and Allison will likely be pulling double duty. Besides being a project manager at United Way, she also currently serves as the Global Innovation and Design Lab’s administrative specialist. In both roles she’ll be involved in the process of creating and running a community workshop. “The goal is to find out what barriers community members most want to see tackled and what solutions they feel like can be implemented,” she said. “Once we have that information we can begin to engage in the legislative process.”
Allison graduates with her master’s degree in June of 2022. She isn’t quite sure of her next move. “I’ve worked for nonprofits and for government and I’m interested to see what it’s like in the corporate world,” she said. Allison has energy and she’ll find the focus. Or, better put, she’ll devote her energy to finding out what she wants to do next. Sometimes you have to let the string out a little.
Aaron Artman, president of the Tacoma Rainiers since 2007, will teach Revenue Generation in the Milgard School of Business, Sports Enterprise Management program. The class will be held this Winter Quarter at Cheney Stadium, with free parking for students.