Diverse Team of NC State Grad Students Brings Insight to Internet of Things CIC Practicum Project for Cisco

“Let noble thoughts come to us from all the directions.” This quote, from “The Rigveda” – one of the world’s oldest texts – was cited in an April 25, 2017, post on the Cisco Innovation Blog.

It reflects the spirit of a practicum project completed by a multidisciplinary team of NC State graduate students for Cisco, one of the partner companies of the Consumer Innovation Collaborative (CIC) based in the NC State Poole College of Management.

In his blog post, Biren Gandhi, a distinguished strategist in Cisco’s corporate strategy office, was writing about “Ancient Wisdom in Modern Times,” as it relates to his role in identifying key technology trends and accelerating their adoption through several means, including partnering.

On May 1, the NC State student team met in the gaming lab at the NC State Hunt Library to present results of their semester-long practicum project to Learning @ Cisco representatives. Among those listening was Catalina Aguirre Burneo, market manager at Cisco and an NC State Jenkins MBA alumna who was a CIC scholar while a student.

The main objective of the team’s project was to create an animated and interactive tool for the IoT Talent Consortium website, Aguirre Burneo said. In her current role at Cisco, she focuses on business strategy, consumer insights and marketing research, and also serves as Learning @ Cisco’s liaison for this and other CIC projects.

Students Bring Perspective from Diverse Disciplines

“The goal of this tool is to identify users’ preferences and direct those users toward learning pathways, web content, and other resources that they can use to acquire the skills and knowledge needed to be part of the IoT. The students brought perspective from their various academic disciplines – marketing, cultural anthropology, design and interactive media – to the project,” she said.

Shea McManus, assistant professor of anthropology and international studies at NC State’s College of Humanities and Social Science, served as a mentor for the project, along with Colbey Reid, professor of practice and director of the Consumer Innovation Collaborative.

“The most engaging designs are driven by a deep understanding of the motivations and preferences of the people who will be using them,” McManus said. “Anthropology seeks insight into the values, assumptions and beliefs that shape people’s perceptions and behaviors. These insights are sought from the user’s perspective, which offers anthropologists a unique opportunity to discover the culturally specific patterns and trends that could inspire impactful designs.

Trying New Things

“This project grew out of a conversation I had with Colbey about trying new things,” Aguirre Burneo said. “As a CIC Scholar, I was always open to any idea that Colbey and Stacy presented,” she said, citing Stacy Wood, Langdon University Distinguished Professor of Marketing at Poole College and CIC’s executive director.

While discussing ideas for a spring 2017 CIC research project for Cisco, Reid mentioned a design student she knew who “had a great portfolio” and was considering opportunities to leverage her skills. Aguirre Burneo thought the student would be a good fit for a project she had in mind: a game or tool that Learning @ Cisco could use to encourage users to explore the potential of the IoT.

Cisco is one of the sponsoring members the IoT Talent Consortium, a non-profit organization that was created as an outgrowth of the IoT World Forum. One of the main goals of the consortium is to collaborate in the development of a new breed of talent with interdisciplinary skills in the IoT economy.

In a previous CIC project, Cisco learned that technology end users “don’t really seem to understand what the IoT means and what skills are needed to build or to be part of the IoT,” Aguirre Burneo said. “This is something that we are paying attention to as a group, along with research-based trends,” she said.

Understanding, Building IoT

Bringing together a multidisciplinary team of students to help with a project to explain what IoT is “was a nice extension” of Learning @ Cisco’s prior work with the CIC, enabling Cisco to “tap into the science that the CIC can provide” while providing students an opportunity to build their skills,” Aguirre Burneo said.

“Learning @ Cisco aims to use the CIC team’s different insights about interactive learning to continue to develop learning tools, products and solutions that meet the customers’ needs,” she said.

“If you want to build the IoT, you need analytics, data scientists, programming, business skills, along with technical writing, design, and other fields. It’s not only about the technology. It’s about combining all these different skills and building something. It is about connecting people, skills and customer needs. For example, the anthropology student and professor played a critical role, providing different perspectives and a scientific approach that enables us to learn from users and understand people’s behavior,” she said.

Peter Wright, the master’s student in cultural anthropology, helped design a questionnaire and interviewed three of the subjects for the study. “My research in the literature was about social and design aspects of gaming, and I helped ideate the game’s design, setting and user navigation,” he said.

“The CIC has helped me gain valuable experience in a field I’d love to work in, using anthropological and design skills that I’ve developed through my education. I am interested in the creation of successful digital communities through design, and the Cisco project was a great match for my interests,” said Wright, who is scheduled to graduate in spring 2018.

“The major takeaway I had is that a strong research backbone makes the entire process easier, as it provides context to the choices made, history on what’s already been found and can be applied, and helps strengthen and create a tangible goal that we can strive for with the project,” he said.

Innovative Research

Sydney McKinney, a spring 2017 Jenkins MBA graduate, with concentrations in marketing and finance, said that when she was entering the MBA program, “I was looking for opportunities to grow and learn. I wanted to learn to do the uncommon thing uncommonly well. The Consumer Innovation Collaborative is one of the few programs in the country that supports innovative research practices that are truly uncommon. This program opened new doors for me, allowed me to grow organically, and taught me new things about leadership, management, research and marketing.”

One of her key takeaways from the CIC experience, she said, is, “You can truly do anything you put your mind to. Coming into the CIC, I knew very little about innovative marketing research techniques. After working through four different projects in the CIC, I feel much more confident in my marketing research skills and abilities.”

Karen Jones, who is graduating in fall 2017 with a master’s in art and design and a concentration in animation and interactive media, was the visual designer, user experience designer and animator for the team’s final presentation to Cisco.

“Being a CIC researcher gave me real-world experience working with team members with diverse skills and backgrounds. This provided an outcome that would not have been possible if not for the robust collaboration. The experience I gained in pushing myself beyond familiar territory was personally rewarding,” Jones said.

“I enjoyed being part of this project. It is a superb example of what an interdisciplinary team can accomplish,” McManus said.

“I loved that this project combined so many skills and talents,” Aguirre Burneo said. “This exemplifies what the IoT is all about. It’s about connecting people. The CIC is an excellent example of how the teams of the future will be: diverse skills and backgrounds together creating solutions and having a consumer/user-centric mindset.”

Jenkins MBA students Larissa Via, Jason Campbell and Alex Gregory also participated in this CIC project.


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