During the ongoing pandemic, Dallas-headquartered Dialexa is providing educational experience through a mentorship program for the next generation of product designers and engineering problem-solvers called Dialexa EDU.
Sanjay Shah, a digital product designer at technology research, design, and creation firm Dialexa, came up with the idea to provide a mentorship program due to his background in sports. When entering the world of technology and product design, Shah found a lack of real-world experiences for students.
“I grew up my whole life in athletics and the name of the game is coaching, teaching, and mentorship,” Shah told Dallas Innovates. “That’s something that’s been ingrained in me for quite some time, and while I was switching careers into this digital product design and UX design industry a few years ago, I searched and looked for opportunities, but there aren’t many opportunities to go shadow companies or talk to people in their company environment and just be able to learn.”
To create Dialexa EDU, Shah put together a team of his fellow “Dialexans” that share his passion for mentorship and fostering connections between students and working professionals. Together with Shah, Kelsey Hopson, Christian Ayala, and Karli Beckner began the process of recruiting Dallas-Fort Worth professors to the program.
In partnership with professors Cassini Nazir of the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD), Michael Gibson of University of North Texas (UNT), and Jan Ballard of Texas Christian University (TCU), the Dialexa EDU team prepared the mentorship program and reached out to their students to introduce them to Dialexa’s work environment.
The pilot program of Dialexa EDU began in March 2019 with a total of eight students selected by the UTD, UNT, and TCU professors ranging in disciplines. Sanjay and his team gave them an introduction to Dialexa and the mentorship program with the first Dialexa Student Mentorship Day. Students were introduced to new concepts, research, and design techniques for designers and developers, and also learned how problem-solving works at Dialexa.
After the program launched with much success, the Dialexa EDU team wanted to take it to the next level.
“We got some good outcomes from Mentorship Day, and we did the same process for the pilot program but on the next level,” Shah says. “We held the inaugural Dialexa EDU kickoff this past February before COVID started, and the idea was to take the students through this eight-week sprint of a real-world project showing them what you need to consider from a design standpoint, a technology standpoint, and a business standpoint.”
Despite the challenges of COVID-19, Dialexa EDU was able to continue its program virtually with online check-ins. Through a set of orchestrated activities, students learned about the process of researching, then transitioning to design and development through “innovative experiences” that Dialexa accomplishes on a day-to-day basis, not just in the realm of design, but in technology and business, Shah said.
“What I think is more of the differentiator is despite that we’re in the middle of a pandemic when Sanjay started this, we really taught these people how to preserve whatever comes and we’re still able to run a completely successful program,” Kari Hightower, Marketing Manager at Dialexa, said.
The Dialexa EDU team concluded their time together with an online presentation day where the teams of students presented all of their work from the past eight weeks and received feedback from their professors and Dialexans.
Shah and his team designed Dialexa EDU to be as sustainable as possible in order to make it a yearly program and keep the idea of innovation going on. In the future, Shah wants to broaden their reach to schools like Southern Methodist University and the University of Texas at Arlington.
“We definitely achieved our initial goals, and we are looking into building upon that and going forward,” Shah said. “We’re looking to spread it and share it to as many places as we can.”
Now in conversations with Big Dallas Design Conference, an international design conference hosted in Dallas each year, Dialexa EDU hopes to spotlight and feature the program as part of the education portion of the conference hosted in September.
“Dialexa is doing things that nobody else in our industry is doing, creating opportunities for future generations, that’s what mentorship and that’s what technology is all about, looking towards the future,” Shah says. “People should be more open to this idea of bringing people into their spaces and nurturing relationships and connections, that’s how we grow.”
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