Michigan State University
Michigan State University
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Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures
Department of Writing
Rhetoric & American Cultures

Winner and Honorable Mentions Announced for the XA Outstanding Major Award

Every spring, WRAC gives the Experience Architecture Outstanding Major Award to an XA student who will be graduating. The award is granted to students who submit a resume and cover letter, compose a digital portfolio, and engage with and commit to community/communities outside the classroom. This year’s winner of the XA Outstanding Major Award is Ashton Keys! 



Outstanding XA Senior Award first-place winner Ashton Keys (L), with honorable mention Hannah Countryman (R)

During his time at MSU, Keys has been involved in many impressive projects. He has worked on content strategy with MSU Hatch, user research with the MSU Libraries, and user interface with Ninety6, a clothing company which he founded. In this past year at MSU, Keys has served as an intercultural aide, where he helps students from all parts of the world make successful social, cultural, and academic transitions in college. 

Keys also created the first student-produced fashion week on campus with Ninety6, which gave him the opportunity to travel to Fashion Week in Paris, France. All his work is detailed on his personal website and portfolio.

Keys did not start at MSU as an XA major. After taking WRA 210: Introduction to Web Authoring, he was introduced to the XA program. “I wasn’t super technical; I was in the intersection between art and technology. I was interested in graphic design, innovations in technology, and working with startups,” says Keys. After joining the XA program in his sophomore year, he gained the skills, resources, and connections that he needed to pursue his incredible projects beyond the classroom. For undergraduates who are just beginning the XA major, Keys advises to have a spirit of exploration. “The XA major gives you the tools, but to get the most out of it, you should put those skills into practice. MSU provides us resources and connections to try. It’s the best way to build your resume up,” he says.

After graduation, Keys will join a fellowship program based in his hometown, Detroit, called Hacker Fellows. During his one-year fellowship, Keys will continue developing the skills and tools he received through XA, while also supporting the development of his community.

The XA Outstanding Major Award also recognizes honorable mention Hannah Countryman.

Countryman also did not begin at MSU as an XA major. During her sophomore year, she decided to double major after discovering XA. “The combination of XA and PW has allowed me to explore a lot of different possible avenues and better figure out what exactly I want to do,” she says.

During her time at MSU, Countryman has worked on user experience, visual design, content creation, and web design with many different organizations, including Steelcase, Sherlockian.net with WRAC Associate Professor Liza Potts, MSU WIDE Research, agnés films and Sabanda Grande Productions with WRAC Assistant Professor Alexandra Hidalgo, and the MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Countryman also hardcoded her own website, a huge accomplishment for any undergraduate. “I got to use it as an opportunity to learn more JavaScript and PHP, and also keep up my skills with writing good HTML and CSS,” she says.

At home, Countryman has stayed involved with her community by creating websites and menu designs for local restaurants and helping community members set up digital and social media presences for their new businesses. By working with many different clients, she learned how to adapt and change her work after receiving feedback. “That ability to use everyone’s input and make sure their ideas are valued has been one of the most amazing skills XA has given me,” she remarks.

For XA students who are beginning the major, Countryman advises to “get involved everywhere you can,” and use the resources made available to you. “I’ve been incredibly lucky with the work I’ve been given the opportunity to do, but I’ve also made a point of asking to join projects I thought were interesting or pushing the limits of what I could do in a particular role, and that’s where my best work has come from,” she adds.

Congratulations to Ashton and Hannah!

Written by Lauren Utykanski
23 April 2018