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The Sound of Internship Success

Bryanna Benicia (EDI ‘23) explains why doing acoustic research was a key component of her internship with office furniture company Steelcase — and how it prepared her for life after EDI.

Among the biggest cultural changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic was how and where people work. From that came a deeper appreciation for well-designed office workspaces and furniture.
Bryanna Benicia

Bryanna Benicia (EDI ‘23) spent four months immersed in that world during her internship through Northwestern's Master of Science in Engineering Design Innovation (EDI) program, working for office technology and furniture company Steelcase.

Benicia was tasked with two missions:

  1. Conduct acoustic research on a product under development
  2. Develop a new product of her own

“I learned a lot about the product development process from an industry perspective and my role within it,” Benicia said. “It was refreshing to see the design process within industry as opposed to an academic setting. A lot more collaboration and communication is involved than you would imagine.”

Benicia joined the EDI program two years after earning her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.

She said the opportunity for an internship is an important part of the program.

“It helps students decide what type of field and job they want to work post-graduation,” she said. “A lot of students in EDI come from different backgrounds and may want to pivot from their more technical background, and an internship is great for exploring a new role or solidifying your decision to pivot.”

Benicia’s internship focused heavily on the world of sound. An often overlooked part of product development, acoustic research is vital in meeting the sometimes subconscious expectations consumers have for certain things to sound certain ways.

For example, automakers spend vast amounts of time and research dollars to ensure their vehicles' doors have the right sound when they are shut. A closing car-door often helps shape the first impressions potential buyers have of a vehicle, so automakers work to ensure it sounds sturdy, robust, and familiar.

Noise is the recognized largest distraction in an office setting. One study reported that 99 percent of workers said their concentration was impaired by office noise, especially telephones left ringing at vacant desks and people talking in the background.

Research from Steelcase showed that people highly dissatisfied with their work environment are also highly disengaged at work, costing the global economy billions of dollars annually.

As a result, office furniture and related technology that deadens noise and minimizes distractions can become a competitive industry advantage. Benicia’s work went toward that goal.

“On an average day, I would be running around conducting acoustics tests and communicating with other Steelcase employees regarding information I needed,” she said. “I enjoyed presenting my final acoustics research to different teams and getting them excited about future directions.”

Another highlight came from accomplishing her second goal – to design a product from start to finish. She said she was proud to have that product showcased at a conference in Florida and featured in showrooms for customers to see and interact with.

With her internship and time in EDI behind her, Benicia is looking forward to moving into the workforce as a product developer. She said she is already seeing the practical benefits from the lessons she learned in the classroom and through her internship.

“EDI has empowered me to bring a human-centered design approach to everything I do,” she said. “The internship gave me the opportunity to strengthen my skills and gave me a taste for an industry setting. It also empowered me to believe in myself and my designs."

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