Teaching Fellow 2014-2015
Alissa was part of the first cohort of students to ever come through the d.school, back in the days when it was still just a trailer packed with brave pioneers with visionary ideas and the audacity to try them out. Since then her product development career has taken her all over the world, including the past four years in Myanmar with Proximity Designs creating low-cost products for Burmese rural farmers. In July 2014 she returned to the Bay and is now joining the d.school as a Teaching Fellow, primarily working with the Design for Extreme Affordability team.
Alissa’s interest in problem-solving and design manifested itself at an early age, and by high school Alissa was sure she’d be designing either prosthetics or rollercoasters in her future. No one was surprised the day she declared that she wasn’t going to become a doctor (like both her parents and only sibling), but an engineer.
Educational voyages at Johns Hopkins University (where she played varsity basketball for four years and graduated with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering) and at Stanford’s graduate program in Mechanical Engineering (M.S. ‘2007) eventually led to interest in two fields of engineering: medical device design and design for low-income communities. Amidst many medical device classes at Stanford, Alissa found her dream class: Design for Extreme Affordability. Through Extreme, Alissa and her team travelled to Myanmar to conduct needfinding with rural farmers and develop solutions to the challenges prevalent on the ground.
A couple of years later, after some time as an engineer with the medical device design consultancy, Hiemstra Product Development, she and her husband Todd returned to Myanmar full-time in 2010 to develop affordable but functional human-powered pumps, water storage containers, and drip irrigation systems. She realized, the hard way, that in order to succeed as a designer she needed to not just use a good process, but actually adopt it to the culture of Myanmar and then teach it to colleagues, vendors, and eventually clients. In her own words: “Imagine what a disaster it would be if the foreigner, so removed from the realities of Burmese farmers though physically present, was the main designer.”
Four years of power-outages, being constantly wet (from rain or sweat), and perfecting her flat-footed squat have prepared Alissa for the wonderful challenge she is now facing: to inspire Stanford students to build things that matter with people who need it the most.
Today Alissa lives with her husband Todd in Sunnyvale, CA. They hope to one day combine their passions for medical device design and low-cost innovation to design medical technologies for low-income environments. Let her know if you’re their future CEO. She still plays hoops every Tuesday night with a women’s league in the South Bay and can be found riding her road bike with Todd in the foothills on the weekends.