Mika Yonaha ’21, a student-designed digital design of entertainment environment major was awarded a 2020 APEX fellowship to spend a summer as an experience designer for the Harmony Center Experience for Children in Tokyo, Japan. Usually, the center offers several activities for children, including horseback riding, skating, a mobile zoo, and an international exchange program, but these activities were limited due to COVID-19 pandemic regulations. In her role, Yonaha helped brainstorm innovative ideas that allowed the children to still have an engaging experience. “I proposed a letter exchange program between the children and Harmony Center staff, award system for students who won online events, and hybrid system, which involved sending physical materials to the virtual learners to expand the range of online experiences,” Yonaha said.
The experience designer credits her area of study for helping her develop goals in line with those of the Harmony Center. At Wooster, students can work with two advisors to design a major theme that best fits them. Digital design of entertainment environment, Yonaha’s student-designed major, is interdisciplinary, combining computer science, studio art, interior design, and theatre design. “I not only focus on creating spaces but figuring out the experiences of those spaces—what people do, how they enjoy it,” Yonaha said. “What I study in my major is similar to what the Harmony Center does which is one of the reasons I was selected for the internship.” Examples include the design of amusement parks, restaurants, and museums.
Heading into her senior year, Yonaha reflected on the ways her internship would be preparation for her Independent Study. “Thanks to this internship, I realized I only have a vague image of my uniqueness as an experience designer, which is a key factor,” she said. “I will keep considering my uniqueness, including my messages and core values as a designer, and will continue searching for an answer through my I.S.” Despite the circumstances, Yonaha was still able to change the perspectives of the children in the program and provide some happiness through entertainment experiences. “This summer was difficult due to COVID-19, but at the same time, it was a great opportunity to think about a new type of experience and what I can do for people through experience design,” she said.