“I saw the master’s thesis show at Parsons, and I was so impressed with the projects. They were really, really cool. I had to go there; I knew it was perfect for me,” says Mike Edwards. A year later, he enrolled in the MFA Design and Technology program.
Edwards’ own thesis is as impressive as the ones that inspired him to come to Parsons. After receiving a grant from the Open Society Institute, Edwards traveled to Malawi and worked as a technologist with a small health-care advocacy organization. For his thesis project, developed in collaboration with the Malawian organization Baobab Health Partnership, Edwards created tools that digitally measure children’s arms to determine whether they are malnourished and store the records electronically.
Since returning from Malawi, Edwards has been focusing on education. At PETLab (Prototyping, Evaluating, Teaching and Learning Laboratory), the first public-interest game design and research laboratory for interactive media, which has a branch at Parsons, he worked with a team to develop a game that teaches players about sustainable architecture and construction. Recently, Edwards has been working as part of the SMALLab (Situated Multimedia Art Learning Lab) team to create games that make learning fractions more fun and Web-based tools to help students and teachers research more effectively on the Internet.
Edwards' interest in education includes classroom instruction as well: He recently began teaching as an adjunct professor at Parsons. The position allows him to explore social media and its uses. For a collaboration studio class, Edwards and his colleagues had students develop user interfaces and visualizations for JPMorgan Chase’s social network. And in the summer of 2009, Edwards researched the use of Twitter as a mobilizing tool during post-election public protests in Iraq. As BusinessWeek magazine reported, Edwards had found that despite media reports to the contrary, Twitter was not widely used by nationals within Iraq; instead, most tweets came from outside the country, a finding that revealed the limitations of social media in reporting and community organizing.
For Edwards, one of the best features of Parsons is “the kind of people who come to school here. They have a diverse range of life experiences, talents, and interests, but they are all really smart people. It creates a really productive mix of thoughts and designs, which is good for ‘strange’ kinds of creativity, ranging from very technical to very artistic.”