Class of 2023: Frustrated on the traditional college path, Kian Thornton pivoted in a direction all his own
By: William Lineberry
Kian Thornton nearly dropped out of Virginia Commonwealth University, but a conversation with faculty members turned everything around.
Thornton was a transfer student from Piedmont Virginia Community College near Charlottesville. At VCU, the first major he pursued wasn’t working out, and he considered leaving college. But with encouragement from two faculty members, he instead found an academic home in VCU’s da Vinci Center for Innovation and the Interdisciplinary Studies Program.
Through these avenues, Thornton could harness his interest in the creative and technical elements of user design, create a curriculum around them and pursue a degree that was all his own. He will graduate from University College this spring with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in product design.
“The da Vinci faculty and classes are what kept me here,” Thornton said. “These faculty really cared about me, and their classes were geared toward the real world and getting a job. And IDS allowed me to take these classes, almost exclusively, with the professors I wanted to take them from.”
Through classes such as Human-Centered Design (taught by Tyson Glover), Venture Creation (William Benton) and Product Innovation (Andrew Ilnicki), Thornton started to chart his own path.
“From high school to now, I thought I was going to do like 30 different careers,” he said. “I switched my path like a million times. But in UI/UX design, I get to be creative and have some technicality to my work. I like it because of how human-centered the field is. I lean more toward the user experience. I really like the idea of researching and figuring out what people want or need and how I can create something that will help improve their lives.”
Thornton’s work with da Vinci Center faculty helped lead him to an internship partnership with Bank of America and VCU College of Engineering, through which he joined a team working on a sizable UI/UX design project. He said the experience revealed what a day-to-day life could be like in the field and how to work on a team amid real-world constraints.
The relationships made in and out of the classroom, largely through his internship and networking, complement the complex skills learned through his VCU coursework, Thornton said.
“In college I feel like the connections you make, the work that you do and experience you get out of internships and jobs are the things that really support your degree and help you get a job you want,” Thornton said.
When reflecting on his two years at VCU, Thornton is grateful he took the leap to put himself out there and forge his own path.
“College is what you make of it,” he said. “If you just go to your classes and don’t engage with your professors or fellow students, the name of the degree is not necessarily going to get you what you’re after. Talk to your classmates, talk to your professors and make those real connections. Just put yourself out there and be genuine.”