Claire RICHARDS ’12, Ph.D. Student

After studying abroad in Paris as an undergraduate student at Cornell University, Claire RICHARDS ’12 couldn’t deny the charm of the City of Lights and chose to move to Paris to complete her Masters degree at École Nationale Supérieure de la Création - Les Ateliers (ENSCI). Claire is now pursuing her doctorate degree in France and continuing her study of hearing and haptics design with hopes of improving the lives of people living with sensory, physical, cognitive, or social disabilities. A passionate design researcher whose work is inspired by her own hearing disability, Claire reflects on life as an expat, her time at Ellis, and what’s next for her.
Years at Ellis:Grade 9 to Grade 12
Location:Paris, France
Education:B.S. Design and Environmental Analysis, Cornell University; Mastère Spécialisé Design and Contemporary Technology, École Nationale Supérieure de la Création - Les Ateliers (ENSCI)

Why did you decide to go abroad, and specifically to Paris, to study?
I first decided to live abroad in France as an undergraduate at Cornell University. I spent my third year in an exchange program with Académie Charpentier, studying interior architecture and product design in Paris. I was enamored with the city, language, and lifestyle, and chose to pursue another life chapter in Paris after finishing my fourth and final year at Cornell. I ended up being accepted into the Masters program at ENSCI, and went back to France the fall after my graduation. I initially came to France to learn the language and discover the country, and those goals have been accomplished. I feel more ‘Franco-américaine’ every day—I speak the language fluently, and I even have a French social security number now!

You completed your master’s degree at École Nationale Supérieure de la Création - Les Ateliers (ENSCI) in France. Tell me about your studies and work in Paris.
I was enrolled in a Masters program titled “Création et technologie contemporaine”, or ‘Design and contemporary technology’. In October 2017, I successfully defended my master’s thesis in front of a jury of design professionals and educators at ENSCI - Les Ateliers. After defending my thesis, I began a process of self-reflection which informed my Masters dissertations, or ‘mémoires’. My mémoire was about my hearing disability and how it symbolized the development of my unique creative methods and thinking style. My argument was that from every disability comes a unique ability to adapt.

What comes next for you now that you’ve completed graduate school?
Having completed my master’s program, I am currently in the process of putting together a doctorate degree. The process happens very differently in France than it does in the United States. As a student, I am obliged to find my own research director, who will then accept me into their university if I am also able to demonstrate that I have the appropriate funding. I am hoping that I will win a research laboratory grant with the Fondation Pour l’Audition, a French organization focused on sensory handicaps related to hearing.

What are you passionate about exploring as an artist and designer?
I would define myself as a design researcher who is passionate about pursuing methods that involve hands-on, academic, and scientifically informed perspectives. My doctoral thesis subject is actually a prolongation of the research that I carried out while at ENSCI for my Masters. I studied the possibility of sound to be understood through touch. As it turns out, there are countless health and design applications of this fascinating type of multimodal research. In the future, I hope to explore more multi-sensory projects which will help to improve the lives of people living with sensory, physical, cognitive, or social disabilities.

What is your best memory of Ellis?
Some of my best memories of Ellis were in the photography and art studios. I loved being in the darkroom. It was during my art classes and work periods that I was really able to take time to reflect on my future and consider all of my options. I still remember the day in the art studio when Ms. Moldovan showed me the Cornell website and talked to me about their new summer programs in design. It was when I was first thinking about how I could combine my passion for creativity with a more practical approach.

For Ellis students reading this: is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?
If you have an image in your mind of how you wish your life to be, no matter how blurry it may seem, do everything in your power to make that image clearer by working towards your goals. Every single day of work counts towards overcoming difficulties and making your dreams a reality. Also, as one mentor at Cornell once told me, ‘when it flows, it flows’—trust the feeling that you get when things seem to be working out perfectly, and follow it.

We often talk about girls developing their voice at Ellis, what does that mean to you? How do you use your voice?
Developing one’s voice is not the same as incessantly voicing one’s own opinion. It is just as important to hear others’ voices as it is to know how you want to voice your own opinions. I try to remember this every day, and practice active listening as much as I practice fearlessness in intimidating situations—whether they be academic, professional, or social.

How do you spend your free time?
I bake, listen and discover new music, play guitar, read, run, practice yoga, play video games, and spend time with friends and my French/Albanian boyfriend, Anthony. I also love going for long walks around Paris, I discover something new every time!

How would you describe yourself in three words?
Determined. Passionate. Clumsy.

What woman inspires you and why?
I am so inspired my my mom, Theresa Richards, who is a former Ellis teacher. She is now involved in FIRST Robotics and is doing amazing things for young girls interested in science. She’s inspiring them to pursue careers in tech and computer sciences—both academic and professional realms that desperately need more female voices.

What is the last book you read?
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz