A blossoming passion in design

Swati Chopra's love of design has led her to teach art to refugees, earn two patents, and help fight the opioid epidemic

By Danniah Daher

Casual headshot of Swati Chopra

Swati Chopra wears many hats at once, all while staying true to her free spirit. Swati is a master of design student, graphic design teaching assistant, vice president of the design program's graduate student government, and last but not least, an Albert C. Yates Fellow.

 “My friends tease me that I love collecting school identity cards,” she says.

Swati has studied design in India, Germany and now the United States at UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP). While at UC, she’s developed two design patents, published two academic papers, received a prestigious fellowship as a Yates Fellow, and she has no intention of slowing down.

Her love of drawing started early. While she was supposed to be doing math homework, Swati was doodling in notebooks. Her father would ask why her math notebook was covered in Mickey Mouse and Tom and Jerry drawings. “I told him, ‘Look, dad, I love Mickey Mouse and Tom and Jerry.’” She laughs, “I was a sassy teenager.”

I wasn’t even speaking perfect German at the time, and neither could they, but art is a universal language. It was easy for us to relate to each other.

Swati Chopra

Beginning her design career at the National Institute of Design—arguably the most competitive and elite design school in India—she settled into academia slowly, making the decision to transition into teaching, and then moved to Germany to teach art lessons at refugee camps.

“There were refugees from Yemen, Turkey, everywhere,” she says, “And art was their way of expressing themselves, letting the bad out. Art is great for that. I wasn’t even speaking perfect German at the time, and neither could they, but art is a universal language. It was easy for us to relate to each other. All we had to do was express ourselves through drawing. I was so happy teaching there. And it made me realize that, 'Wow, you know what I really want to do? I want to teach.'"

With the goal of teaching in mind, she set out to finish her degree in graphic design, moving to the United States and enrolling at the Rhode Island School of Design. “Every country has a different perception of design," explains Swati, "And I was very excited to see what U.S.  design was all about.”

From that point on, school has been Swati's main focus. After RISD, she discovered the University of Cincinnati and began pursuing her master’s. This led to the distinguished Albert C. Yates Fellowship. This award, established in 1966 and later re-named to honor UC’s first African-American vice president and university dean for graduate studies and research, recognizes outstanding academic excellence and strives to support minority groups. 

Not only did Swati find her place at UC as a Yates Fellow, but she found the right professors and advisors to create a support system. Her closest confidant, Associate Professor Claudia Rebola, is the current director of the master of design program. “She is amazing,” says Swati. “She’s my advisor, my mentor, my everything. She’s the one who forced me to write better—I never thought I could write, I have this phobia of writing—but I wrote two papers under her."

“I wasn’t aware these things could happen to me. And I need to thank DAAP for letting me know—you can do it.”

Her papers have not only been published, but have also been selected to be presented at the American Medical Informatics Association’s Clinical Informatics Conference (AIMA) and the 2018 International Design Conference. One of the papers, "Designing the Enhanced Student Experience in Design Institutions," researched and identified the challenges faced by design students during their academic term along with their psychological state as it relates to the learning process; the goal being to help students navigate their lives better. This may sound acutely data-focused and analytical for an arts student—but, it turns out, DAAP has a multi-disciplinary and flexible curriculum structure to accommodate such research. And this diversity has inspired Swati to become an even better designer.

“DAAP is so diverse. Our students range from doctors to fashion designers to industrial designers to graphics to neuroscience students,” Swati explains. “And she [Claudia Rebola] has been working really hard to make the program more cohesive. Now, imagine developing courses for that group of students. That is a tough job. But Dr. Rebola is making that happen.”

Beyond her papers, Swati has earned two patents for her work with the Live Well Collaborative, a new teaching, learning and practice model designed to cultivate collaboration between industry and design, housed at UC’s new 1819 Innovation Hub. The program, co-founded by Professor Craig Vogel, associate dean of graduate studies and executive director of the Digital Media Collaborative at DAAP, enabled Swati to immerse herself in a design project team. Through Live Well, she was able to conduct research and product design that has thus led to two patents for Boeing.

“We worked together with multi-disciplinary teams and engineers and designers to create innovative and unique design solutions, with guidance from Professor Vogel and industry sponsors,” explains Swati, “and two of these design solutions have become patent filings, towards enhancing the passenger experience.”

A poster for the AntiOD campaign, which encourages bystanders to save the lives of victims of opioid overdose.

Swati Chopra designed this poster and others for the AntiOD campaign.

Swati Chopra accomplishes her goals with  determination. What’s next on her agenda? She’s continuing her many projects—one being a collaborative effort with her mentor, Associate Professor Rebola, called Project AntiOD, which creates easier access to Naloxone, a drug used to revive opioid overdoses.

"Currently, we are trying to figure out a new strategy and branding for this project in Cincinnati. We are three team members led by Dr. Rebola—Norberto Sanchez, Sebastian Ramirez, and myself. My colleagues are working on the packaging and the placement strategy, while I am working on the branding and communication aspects of the project."

Beyond this, Swati plans to continue chasing her love of design and teaching.

“I feel blessed to be here," she says. "My belief is that I am an ordinary student who got extraordinary learning opportunities at DAAP. I would like to thank my wonderful, brilliant and supporting professors for this."

Check out Swati Chopra’s website to view her art and design work. 

Featured image at top: "My Alomond Clove"/Swati Chopra/Courtesy of the artist

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