Melissa Rurangirwa, a Fall 2023 Technology Division graduate, answers some of our questions while reflecting on the journey that brought her to the University of Houston, as well as her plans post-graduation.
You dual majored in Digital Media and Human Nutrition and Foods and minored in Technology Leadership and Innovation Management. What made you choose that combination, and what made you choose the University of Houston?
I transferred to UH from another university, where I was originally studying biology and was pre-med, and then I moved over to kinesiology for a little while as well. I ended up wanting to study nutrition, but my university didn't have a nutrition program, so in looking for a school here in Texas that offered a good nutrition program, I found UH and thought it was a good fit. After I went through all of those changes, including still being pre-med while getting my nutrition education, I thought, "I've been going in circles forever, and I don't think I really want to be a doctor." That's what I was realizing – I don't want to do that! But then what else would I do if not that?
One thing that always stuck out about me as a kid is that I was the creative one. I always wanted to be drawing and creating art, but my dad drilled it into my head that that could not be a career – that it wasn't an option and wouldn't make any money or give me enough stability. My parents are immigrants, so stability is a really big thing, and I understood that from their perspective. Medical professionals are always needed, so there's security there. But I still wanted to find a way to make it work, so I kept researching; I was on the computer all of the time researching different art-related careers, taking career aptitude tests, things like that, and I started to find a lot of technology-related careers with artistic components and realized that that could be a great option for me.
When I was searching at UH specifically, I found Digital Media. That was the only program I found that had a specific user experience (UX) class as part of the requirements, and then as I was looking at all of the other courses and requirements I thought, "All of this stuff makes sense!"
If you could build your dream job from scratch to allow you to bring everything together, what would it look like?
I have a few different options to bring it all together. One would be doing technology or UX for a food or nutrition company, but my bigger dream is to build an app that would be focused on comprehensive physical and mental health. That's the biggest dream. I feel like that would allow me to combine my skills and education well, because I've studied in so many healthcare-related areas and also have the skills to design an application like that. I want to address both sides: the average consumer as well as our healthcare professionals. Because that was my original goal – to become a healthcare professional – I've seen a lot of things that I thought could benefit from changes in those fields.
One of the app ideas that I have would be something that's helpful for organizing information that doctors often need from patients, and helping patients keep it all together, even if they're seeing multiple specialists and need to keep their information organized or just want to keep track of their vaccinations and the medications that they take. Having all of that in one place would be helpful because I know it can end up scattered everywhere across records and notes, and keeping track of everything can be difficult sometimes.
What was the best part of your time here at UH? What was your favorite experience?
I would say the job that I do right now with Coca-Cola for vitaminwater. That job has led me to meeting so many more people than I ever would have without it. I had never lived in a big city before I transferred here. I would go to the big campus events, but I also stayed in my room a lot. But with this job, I do sampling events where I get to hand out free vitaminwater product – usually around 400 bottles for each event. At first, I was a little nervous because I'd never talked to this many people in one day in my life! Everybody was really nice though. Sometimes people would come up and tell me "Oh, I really needed this right now!" It's nice to see and interact with that many people in a positive way over the semester.
I was also the president of Active Minds, which is a mental health-related organization, here at UH. It's a national nonprofit, but they have a UH chapter that I've been involved with since I started here, and I ultimately worked my way up to being president of the organization for a while. I really, really liked Active Minds, because we used to do a lot of mental health education events and activities, and that's something I'm really very passionate about. I worked with the mayor's office on an education program for teen mental health, too.
I'm passionate about music as well, especially singing. That's something I want to pursue in addition to healthcare and everything else. I make TikToks and videos for YouTube, and I got to sing at Frontier Fiesta twice. One of those times was during the pandemic, when I was all the way back in Brownsville, so I drove six hours back here (and then another six hours home) just to sing.
You've taken a creative path through education, and it's given you a lot of perspective and diverse experience. Now that graduation has wrapped up, where do you go from here?
I don't have anything full-time lined up, so I'm job searching right now. I'm going to keep up my part-time social media management role while I search, because I handle that remotely, but now that finals are over and this hectic last semester has finished, I can dedicated so much more of time to finding the perfect full-time role. I'm primarily looking for a UX design position – that would be ideal – but also open to really anything related to UX, UX research, UI design, digital marketing, anything like that. I'm trying to widen my net a bit while still staying close to my skills and my interests, because I know this is where I want and need to be.
Connect with Melissa on her LinkedIn here!