Alumna uses technology for social good
Western Engineering News | May 14, 2019
Throughout our education and careers, we are often reminded to “find your passion” and “do what you love.” Finding your passion, pursuing it, and turning it into a fulfilling career, however, is no easy feat.
While at Western, Natasha Jimenez studied Software Engineering and Social Justice and Peace Studies – two degrees that outwardly had nothing to do with one another except for one thing: her passion for the subject matter.
“When I told people what I was studying, they would often look at me kind of funny and say, ‘What are you going to do with that combination?’ or ‘Social Justice and Peace Studies is your for-fun degree,’” said Jimenez, BESc’14 and BA’14.
“I had no idea at the time how important both these seemingly contrasting bodies of knowledge would be to a lot of the work I would do in the future, and how better equipped I would be to tackle a lot of the complex social issues my work focuses on by having that cross-disciplinary education.”
For the past year, Jimenez has worked at San Francisco’s Human Services Agency, a government agency that provides food, cash assistance, health insurance, job training and supportive care to people who are experiencing poverty or abuse, or who are physically and cognitively impaired.
Jimenez works in the agency’s Innovation Office as a service designer, mapping out where the problem areas exist and working with various levels of leadership to design creative solutions that range from step-by-step guides and user-friendly online experiences to prototyping automated text messaging bots.
“A big focus of mine is to make sure our services are accessible to those who need them most,” said Jimenez. “What I design needs to be usable by people with a very wide range of needs – those who may not speak English, may have a vision impairment, experience homelessness, have low literacy skills or lack access to technology, just to name a few.”
Prior to joining San Francisco’s Human Services Agency, Jimenez worked at an agile software consulting company called ThoughtWorks, where she developed Translation Cards, a translation app that helps field workers communicate with refugees. Translation Cards was initiated by Oliver Farshi, former designer at Google, who brought Jimenez on board to develop the app.
The collaboration led the pair to start Outside, a humanitarian design agency that develops programs aimed at reducing suffering and promoting peace and wellbeing.
In November 2017, Jimenez and Farshi were hired to deliver design research for a hardware device that could help to bring education to remote and rural areas. They travelled to remote parts of the Himalayas in Nepal to research how this device could work in that environment and cultural context, as well as to gain an understanding of the challenges that would be faced and make recommendations on the technology.
“We spoke with dozens of students across 10 different remote villages and got to embed ourselves in a world that is very unique from our own,” said Jimenez.
By using technology to create social impact, Jimenez has built a career that seamlessly combines her two degrees towards her passion for humanitarian design.
“My engineering background has helped me understand the technical context and complexity behind building digital tools and platforms. It equipped me with tangible and in-demand skills to bring to the table. My Social Justice and Peace Studies degree introduced me to proper research practices and really opened my eyes to the complex systems of oppression and injustice that exist within the communities where I work.”
But even before positively affecting the communities in which she works, Jimenez made an impact in the Western community.
“I loved the community aspect of being a student at both Western and Kings, and I feel like I lived many different lives during my time at Western.”
Jimenez was very active as a student at Western, competing on the Western cheerleading team and serving as the eventual president of SURLA - Students United in Representation of Latin America. SURLA works to raise awareness about Latin American issues and stands in solidarity with the social movements of the region through advocacy, hosting speaker series, workshops, human rights campaigns and solidarity delegations.
Being an engineering student also meant that Jimenez got to be part of a very tight-knit community.
“Though engineering was a very rigorous program to be in, there was a feeling of solidarity among my colleagues rather than competition, which I really appreciated. I joined the Undergraduate Engineering Society as a social director to help coordinate and contribute to this atmosphere.”
From her student experience to her jobs abroad, Jimenez embodies the essence of what it means to find your passion and do what you love. When asked about her career goals moving forward, Jimenez joked, “All I can say is, I hope to keep finding ways of getting paid to do fulfilling and impactful work.”
For an overview of Natasha’s art and design work, visit ashajimenez.com.