Faces of UMSI: Phil Mendez
Phil Mendez describes his life as a series of side plots.
Originally from Tallahassee, Florida, the first year Master of Science in Information student has spent most of his life trying to find ways to fuse seemingly disparate interests into a lifelong career.
That is, until two years ago.
“So there’s this huge side plot where I’m in Spain,” he says, laughing. “I’m teaching middle school kids, living in an apartment the size of a bedroom, Spain is under severe lockdown because of COVID-19 and I’m wondering ‘how does this all fit together?’”
Cue the University of Michigan School of Information. In Spain, Phil began researching the possibility of pursuing a degree in information. He liked the idea of interdisciplinary work that allowed him to use “technology and design as tools to solve problems.”
At UMSI, Phil is able to weave together all of his interests while pursuing his MSI degree in User Experience Research and Design.
Originally, he didn’t think it was possible.
There’s his love of teaching, his passion for people and a wide array of hobbies like farming, programming and cooking. Additionally, as an editing, writing and media studies graduate from Florida State University with years of experience working in nonprofit and connecting to communities, he wanted more than just a typical college experience.
“I got all of that,” he says. “It was so cool. Because I’m teaching Comm 102 at the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, I’m doing research work at UMSI and I’m getting real world experience through the Engaged Learning Office.”
At UMSI, Phil is interested in qualitative research, which allows him to interview and connect to people within the community, driving social change through research. For one of his classes, Phil worked with Maize and Blue Cupboard, a campus food pantry. Through that project, he created an interactive mobile app to coordinate volunteers, managers and shoppers.
Phil’s experience at Maize and Blue Cupboard has inspired him to continue studying food information systems at UMSI.
“It’s just really amazing,” he says. “UMSI is not a theoretical program. It’s boots on the ground, working with clients, coming up with solutions and gaining real world experience.”
After graduation, Phil wants to continue using his community centered approach and his creativity to understand complex problems and advocate for users. His passion for social justice is inspired by his upbringing in Florida.
“I want to be the person who understands the nuances and unintended consequences of our information systems and work with stakeholders to build better solutions,” he says. “I grew up with a single father who is a working class Latino. I was in a rent-free scholarship house during undergrad where I lived with 16 people and we pulled money for groceries.
“These experiences were definitely formative for my worldview and what I feel has motivated me in terms of my approach to my research. It changes how you formulate research questions, how you communicate findings and everything in between.”
Phil’s favorite part of attending UMSI is the alumni network, the client based projects and the people in the MSI program, whom he describes as a “colorful mosaic of backgrounds and interests.”
“It’s so interdisciplinary,” he says. “It’s so hard to describe the people in this program and how brilliant they are. You’ll have someone from a computer science or engineering background, someone from psychology, someone in fine arts, and it’s really great to work with them.”
Read more Faces of UMSI profiles here.