Medical lab science one day, industrial design the next

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Her vision was blurred minutes before she woke up lying on the floor. An experience like this changed the plans she had set for her future.

Kelsey Roberts felt shaky in her introductory medical lab science class when the teacher began talking about bone marrow transplants.

“I don’t remember this part, but this is what people told me,” Roberts said. “I woke up and was on the floor. Someone said, ‘Kelsey, you just walked into the wall and fell.’ I can’t handle blood, and I felt embarrassed because the teachers knew me.”

Roberts had first decided to major in medical lab science because she said it’s a stable field with good pay and job opportunities everywhere. Her grandma, aunt and sister all studied lab science at BYU, so the professors knew her family. When she dropped the introductory class from her schedule, that meant changing her major as well.

“As I was looking through my life and praying about it, I felt I needed to do art,” Roberts said. “Which is strange, because I never took an art class.”

However, Roberts was constantly creating things as a child. She designed and sewed clothes for her dolls and teddy bears. She went dumpster diving to find materials, carved wood and made Christmas gifts for her friends in the garage, but she stopped creating things like this when she was 14.

“School became priority,” Roberts said. “I tested into higher math and science (classes), so I figured I was talented at that and never took any art classes in high school.”

But Roberts knew she wanted to do something practical, so she tried graphic design. These were her first official art classes, even though her new classmates had been labeled as art kids their whole lives.

“The cool thing was I got four of my artworks put in the summer art show at the HFAC, when a lot of people didn’t get put in,” Roberts said. “It felt weird that they chose me.”

Roberts’ uncle came to town that winter break. He’s a sculptor, making him the only artist in the whole family, Roberts said.

“I was talking to him, because he’s the only one who understood my drive to do art,” Roberts said. “I told him I liked math and science, but I felt like art needed to be involved.”

He suggested industrial design, which requires students to know the mechanics and math of designing products.

“I did some research on BYU’s program, and the more I read about it, the more sense it made to do it,” Roberts said.

Students have to apply before they can even take the program prerequisites for industrial design. Roberts said 160 people applied to take the prerequisites, and 45 people got in with her. Later, fewer than 20 students made it into the actual program. The overall acceptance rate for the program is about 11 percent.

“My family wasn’t very supportive about it at first,” Roberts said. “Changing my major into something art-related made them worry about me.”

Roberts said the prerequisite courses taught her a lot, like how to take criticism. She strived for the best and often stayed on campus until 3 a.m. She learned to be resourceful, like when she found the pelvic bone of a dead deer on the side of the road and used it for one of her final projects.

Kelsey’s mother Kathleen said her daughter is creative and competitive.

“She is a hard worker and will do whatever it takes to be a great designer,” Kathleen said in an email.

Six days after turning in her portfolio for the official program, Roberts received an email.

“I read it a few times until it hit me that I got in, and I cried,” Roberts said. “I did not see my life going that way at all; I only learned about industrial design eight months ago.”

Richard Fry is an industrial design professor who taught Roberts. He said before getting into the professional-level industrial design program, students have to take four classes that test their ability to communicate visually, highlight their acuity to proportion and observe their creative problem-solving.

“I think it is one of the greatest majors on campus,” Fry said. “The students are great. The fact that Kelsey made the cut shows our faith and confidence in her ability.”

Fry said the next few years will be challenging for Roberts.

“We work to build a student’s personal judgment, ability to be self-directed and make (and defend) decisions,” Fry said.

Roberts is one of the few females currently enrolled in the program, and she said she has to remind herself her new major and plan are real. Since being accepted, Roberts has been hands-on with projects involving welding, 3-D software and more.

Roberts said she doesn’t want to limit the kind of items she’ll design in the future. Many people in the program have known what they wanted to do for a long time, she said, and she feels like that’s something she still needs to discover about herself.

Right now, Roberts’ goal is to improve home environments through the products she’ll design.

“I feel like the environment you live in shapes who you are,” Roberts said. “You do all these important life steps in your home, so I’d like to help make that process a lot nicer.”

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