Fellow Feature: Resham Khanna

Resham Khanna is a first-year Fellow studying cognitive science and psychology. We were able to talk with Resham about how she navigates her numerous interests, her desire to address gaps through inclusive design, and the experiences and relationships she has gained through the Fellowship.

A dark haired young woman poses in front of a waterway.

About Resham

“Hello there! My name is Resham Khanna, and I’m a junior pursuing majors in cognitive science and psychology, along with certificates in Design Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Technology, and New Media. I was born and raised in New Delhi and traveled to the West Coast for the very first time in August 2017, to start my freshman year at UC Berkeley. I am an aspiring UX designer, virtual reality (VR) enthusiast, musician, and (in case you haven’t already noticed) extremely indecisive, mainly because I love exposing myself to new experiences. I usually spend my free time searching for design prompts to tackle, marveling at isometric animations, learning to cook new dishes, singing karaoke, or planning my next big adventure.

On her experience as a Fung Fellow

When I realized that the Fung Fellowship blends health, technology, and design, I knew I had to join the program! What started as a simple message on a Slack channel blossomed into one of the best experiences I have been a part of in my three years of college. The idea of learning through working on impactful design projects with the guidance of an incredible set of mentors was fascinating to me!

I am extremely grateful for having this chance to take risks, improving through celebrating failure, and building empathy in such a warm and nurturing environment. The past year has been full of surprises: interacting with experts at the Aging 2.0 conference, teaming up with an Honors Fellow and Fung batchmate to redesign physical spaces at CMYK 2019, reaching the final round for the Adobe Creative Jam 2020, and winning an award at Stanford’s health++ 2019 hackathon for a low-tech project conceived in a matter of hours! In fact, I have been working on refining the prototypes for our health++ solution, which we have named “Era,” as our team was encouraged and offered mentorship to turn our project into an actual product in collaboration with Noora Health and Stanford Emergency Medicine International. Not only did the Fellowship experience expand my understanding of human-centered design, consultancy, public health and countless other skills, but it also introduced me to a wonderful community of peers at such a large public school, which is a feat in itself.

“What started as a simple message on a Slack channel blossomed into one of the best experiences I have been a part of in my three years of college.”

On the left, Resham and three other Fung Fellows participate in Stanford’s 2019 health++ hackathon— the birthplace of Project Era. On the right, Resham attends the Aging 2.0 conference, organized by Uber Health and Institute on Aging, with other Fellows and Adrienne Greer, Program Coordinator for the Fellowship.

On why she studies what she studies

Throughout high school, I engaged in a wide range of activities: from taking part in theatre and singing a cappella competitively to attending Model United Nations conferences and writing essays. Martial arts, tennis, track and field, piano, guitar, ballet — I left no stone unturned. My most joyful experience was when I worked on a Space Settlement Design Competition organized by Boeing and NASA with 11 other students from my school. As the youngest member and the only one not from a STEM field, the learning curve I encountered was steep but extremely thrilling. By competing at the Asian and (eventually) International level of the competition, I realised that my fondness for multidisciplinary activities was something to embrace, not suppress.

These experiences led me to cognitive science, since it combines a variety of disciplines such as computer science, psychology, and neuroscience, while offering flexibility for me to define my own path. I decided to add psychology as my second major because I really enjoyed understanding how people think, feel, and express themselves. My majors complement one another well and have provided me the opportunity to ground my user research and experience design practices in scientific methodologies. I hope to become a UX Designer after I graduate from college and ultimately earn a PhD in Human-Centered Design and Engineering.

When I had initially set foot in Berkeley, I was completely unsure of what I saw myself doing during and at the end of these four years. The past three years have been filled with diverse experiences and exponential growth.

On what she’s working on right now

Currently, I am a part of Professor Alice Agogino’s Human–computer interaction research lab where I am exploring different strategies to moderate virtual reality spaces as part of a small team. It’s a new and exciting project, filled with storyboarding, literature reviews, 3-D modeling, and creating scenes in Unity to get data from research participants. We’re aiming at spending the summer on remote user testing and writing a research paper to submit to the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (commonly referred to as the CHI conference). I’ve wanted to publish a paper for the longest time, and having the chance to submit it to one of the most prestigious computer science conferences makes this all the more exciting!

This past semester, I was also part of Extended Reality at Berkeley, which is the virtual reality club on campus. I got to work on an extremely interesting project at the intersection of health and technology, where we worked on a game that uses biofeedback parameters such as heart rate and breathing in a way that helps lower anxiety and depression. The player is guided through a storyline and can “restore life” (eg. make trees grow, restore movement, change the weather, etc.) to the environment they are placed in by slowing their breathing and heart rate through various mindfulness exercises. We were also able to demo our project at the Microsoft Reactor, and I had a great time mingling with VR enthusiasts from other colleges!

A dark haired young woman with a VR headset on her head in a conference room.
Resham demos a project at the Microsoft Reactor in San Francisco, where she also was able to mingle with VR enthusiasts from various colleges

I have also been working diligently on organizing the various design cases I have worked on and compiling them into a UX design portfolio. My goal is to create case studies that make my design process easy to understand and demonstrate various skills that go into creating each project, such as interface design, prototyping, experience design, user research, and information infrastructure. It was incredibly hard figuring all of these things out on my own, but I have to thank another Fung Fellow for her encouragement and support through this process. This is actually a great example of how tight-knit the Fung Fellowship community is, and how people help one another outside the classroom. This knack for empathy and care seems to extend to all members of the program, fellows and instructors alike. I don’t think I’ll ever fully be able to express how much I value getting to know and working with them in words.

On the importance of inclusive design

I have started gaining clarity on where my interests align with the mark I want to make on the world. Even though human-centered design is a field that has gained a lot traction in recent times, I see everyday examples where we continue to design products for that only cater to specific populations. Accessibility, diversity, and inclusion have long been overlooked and I think it is high time we start addressing these through a perspective that is driven by effort and empathy. And why stop at simply creating experiences that simply “do the job”? The endless scope for innovation in this space and the way inclusive design practices challenge my skills continue to inspire me.

Everyone deserves well-designed and enjoyable products, yet there aren’t enough industry guidelines or official handbooks on the matter as such. Whether it is a small sting from the inability to choose female avatars in certain video games or the anguish of communicational barriers for the deaf community posed by face masks, inclusive design holds the key to eliminate these negative emotional experiences. I have found Microsoft’s Inclusive Design guidelines extremely helpful and comprehensive in this regard — I consciously try and practice these principles and attempt to push their boundaries to the best of my abilities.

“Whether it is a small sting from the inability to choose female avatars in certain video games or the anguish of communicational barriers for the deaf community posed by face masks, inclusive design holds the key to eliminate these negative emotional experiences.”

On something unexpected about her

Quite a lot of people don’t know this about me, but I’m a trained singer. I’ve been singing and taking lessons since I was eight years old and have learned Indian classical, rock, pop, jazz, a cappella, and Western classical. Performing at various competitions, events, and studio sessions made me fall in love with the calming quality of music and I love learning pieces in different languages (primarily German and English), especially the ones that I don’t speak (such as Italian, Bulgarian and French). In addition to training my vocal cords, I have spent years learning to read sheet music, poring over scores from bygone eras, memorizing theory, and familiarizing myself with tongue-tying names like demisemihemidemisemiquaver (yes, that is the actual term used to refer to 256th of a musical note). I’ve considered returning to Trinity and Rockschool London sometime in the future so I can pick up where I left off by completing my diploma and teaching credentials!”

Connect with Resham // As told to Lauren Leung

Fellow Features is a series dedicated to showcasing the Fung Fellowship community and learning more about their lives and their stories. If you’re interested in being featured, email funginstitute@berkeley.edu.

Applications for the Fung Fellowship are now open for the UC Berkeley transfer class of 2022! Learn more about the Fung Fellowship at fungfellows.berkeley.edu.

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