EVANSTON, Ill.—When work involves playing with toys all day, it hardly feels like a job. Western Michigan University product design and innovation student Madison Dempster is living that dream.
"It's like being a kid again; it's the best," says Dempster, who landed an internship with Hasbro this summer. Working in the kids games division, which is responsible for classics such as Twister, Connect Four, Jenga and Battleship, she spends her days testing out new concepts. "We play board games over our (Microsoft) Teams meetings and talk about games and how they will work."
Dempster, a rising senior at WMU, is currently assisting on two large projects for Hasbro as well as working on another big project of her own.
"I work on creating new and fun board game ideas that could possibly be actually concepts one day. I also help with board games they are creating but just need extra help on," she says. "We sometimes come up with brand new board game ideas or different ways to play the classic games. It's pretty great!"
While she can't discuss details of what she has in the works, she's excited to be diving into the industry and getting real-world experience to build her portfolio.
When Dempster first learned she'd aced her interview with Hasbro and earned a coveted spot in the program, COVID-19 had barely reached the United States. As the pandemic grew, she worried it would cancel the internship opportunity. But the company has successfully pivoted online and brought interns along for the ride.
"Sadly, I couldn't go to Rhode Island to work at Hasbro, but I am grateful they kept me on as an intern during this crazy time," she says, adding she doesn't mind getting a chance to spend her last summer of college with her family in Evanston, Illinois.
Her supervisor might not be able to stop by her desk and help her with a sketch, but there are still plenty of opportunities for critiques and feedback through various video meetings. Doing well in this internship could also be crucial to her career aspirations.
"Hasbro likes to hire past interns, so I could potentially work for them after I graduate, which would be so fun!"
Designing a Bright Future
Dempster is in the Richmond Institute for Design and Innovation's first cohort of product design students. Led by director Michael Elwell, they've grown with the program as it has developed over the past three years.
"He's always been working with my classmates and I side-by-side. He really cares about our experiences and is always willing to work with us if we have an issue," she says. "Mike has been the best support and professor anyone could wish for, especially getting into a new major."
Drawing its curriculum from fine arts, engineering and business, the program has partnerships with corporations such as Eaton, Stryker and Newell, giving students industry experience and professional guidance throughout their college career.
"WMU really helped me get connected with professionals in the Kalamazoo area that turned into mentors for me. They helped me better my portfolio and gave me tips and tricks of the trade," Dempster says.
Much of what she's learned in the classroom over the past three years she's been able to draw from to make an impact at Hasbro. Sketching, graphic design and software skills, as well as experiential learning opportunities, have enabled her to design a bright future for herself in the industry.
"Without this major, Mike Elwell or the companies that gave their time to my peers and I, I would not be where I am today. With their help and guidance, we grew as product designers and people."
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