By Crystal Hayduk
[This story is part of the Willard H. Johnson Scholarship recipient series. Related story here: https://chelseaupdate.com/pay-it-forward-principle-21-years-and-counting-of-willard-h-johnson-scholarships/]
Nathan Magyar’s career as a user experience designer at the University of Michigan’s Center for Academic Innovation allows him to use many of his interests and abilities every day. His wide variety of experiences on both sides of the world have influenced his current choices. “I use everything I studied [in college] in some way, shape, or form today,” he said.
Nathan is the son of Jim and Patti Magyar. He received the Willard H. Johnson Scholarship in 2008 as a graduate of Dexter High School, with eligibility through his mother’s position as an attorney for St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea (formerly Chelsea Community Hospital). “I am grateful to Mr. Johnson for his generous support of me and others like me for contributing to where I am today,” said Nathan.
Nathan’s primary goal as a high school graduate was “exploration and self-discovery about academic interests.” He accepted admission to the University of Michigan (UM) for its strengths in academics and extracurriculars. He spent his first two years in the Residential College (RC), an intensive living and learning community with an interdisciplinary curriculum that includes an artistic-focused environment. His studies inspired him to include Spanish as one of his academic concentrations.
“I’ve always had an interest in people and their behavior, and I’m artistic, so I looked for a way to combine and balance all of these different passions,” said Nathan. “I wound up pursuing Spanish, organizational studies, and a fine arts degree in performance acting.”
During Nathan’s undergraduate years, he used his language skills during a spring break service trip to Guatemala and a semester abroad in Spain.
Following his 2013 graduation from U-M, Nathan made a pipe dream a reality when he biked the TransAmerica Trail from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans (Virginia to Oregon). “I wanted an adventure and celebration for reaching this milestone,” he said. He and four new friends spent two and a half months biking nearly 4,500 miles.
Upon his return, Nathan completed an apprenticeship with the Purple Rose Theatre Company in Chelsea. “The goal of the apprenticeship is broad exposure for their four shows a year,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to work in a well-known theater to see how everything comes together to make a show come to life.” Responsibilities rotate for each show, so by the end of the year-long commitment, apprentices gain experience in all areas, such as the box office, house management, lighting and sound, the set, costumes, and rehearsal assistance; in addition to taking classes in acting and directing. The year ends with a showcase called “Dark Night,” a series of one-act plays written and completely run by the apprentices for an invited audience.
Nathan’s next adventure was teaching English in South Korea for a year. “It was a phenomenal and challenging experience,” he said. “The people are welcoming, it’s got this incredibly rich history, and being able to live and work there for a year gave me the opportunity to connect with people despite language and cultural barriers. It was during that time that I realized how fulfilling it is to help others to learn.”
Later, Nathan stepped into graduate school. He returned to U-M, earning a Master of Science in information in spring, 2018. Timing was everything as a full-time position opened at the Center for Academic Innovation just as his internship there was ending.
His stimulating work as a user experience designer involves research, design, and development. “We research how people use digital products to understand how they use websites, what sort of problems they experience, and what they would like to improve,” said Nathan. “We design how the page looks, how it’s laid out, and how we communicate with users. The development component is where we program and code the page to make it come to life.
“All of these areas tie back to my undergraduate education. The research ties back to the human behavior which I studied in organizational studies, as well as being a better observer of the world and behavior through acting in the fine arts program. I carry forward the artistic passion nurtured in the Residential College through the design side. Programming is its own kind of foreign language…. There are words you need to know and syntax—a correct order for how to write things. You’re learning how to communicate with the computer rather than with another person, but there’s still an evolving conversation taking place.”
Nathan continues to hone his skills in web design and development as an entrepreneur. “I’m working on a new website for Chelsea High School’s #WhyYouMatter initiative, to come out some time this year,” he said.
Nathan enjoys photography, paper cutting art, cooking, and baking. He’s been trying new Italian and Indian recipes since the pandemic; pies and macaroons are his baking specialties.
Nathan believes learning is a lifelong endeavor. From childhood through adulthood, whether starting out in college or post-retirement, it’s never too early or late to determine where to focus your next efforts. “Learning new things helps us to grow as people and lead rich, fulfilling lives.”
[To learn more about Nathan’s experiences while teaching English in South Korea, visit his blog at https://korealizations.wordpress.com/.]