Skip to content

Partner Spotlight

How a First-Time Boot Camp Instructor Kept It Real—and Got Back What She Gave—Teaching the “Bones and Skin” of UX/UI

Written by Daniel O'Shoney on Oct 22, 2021

Related content: Tech and Data Science, Boot Camps

When it comes to working in design, Jessie Marman—an instructor for the University of Arizona Continuing and Professional Education UX/UI Boot Camp—is already a seasoned expert across several business environments.

“I’ve worked in-house at a large company, for a design consultancy, and now I’m at a startup here in Phoenix,” Jessie recently told me. “So I’ve essentially hit the Holy Trinity in this industry.”

For this and many other reasons, Jessie stood out during boot camp instructor interviews last year. She’s also a University of Arizona graduate herself, who resourcefully found a way to count user experience and user interface (UX/UI) courses toward her BFA degree in Graphic Design and Visual Communication.

“When they approached me to teach,” Jessie explained, “I had already been acting as the interim design director for clients looking to build their own UX teams. So the boot camp felt like a great fit.”

Jessie was right—because even as a first-time instructor, she also stood out to the students in her cohort. Their votes at the end of the boot camp led her to win 2U’s bi-annual Student Choice Award for “We Have a Can-Do Attitude” last month. And that’s where I come in: I was the host of the online celebration for our winners. Once Jessie took the spotlight that afternoon, it was instantly clear why she made such an impact.

A screenshot of the moment I presented Jessie with her 2U Student Choice Award during our online celebration

Career Path Insights and Real-World Projects

Soon after our Student Choice Award Zoom celebration, I connected with Jessie to dive deeper into her success. During our chat, I discovered it comes from her ability to 1) draw from real-world scenarios in her professional world, and 2) explain concepts in ways that connect to students’ worlds. In other words, Jessie knows how to meet learners wherever they are.

“As we covered different parts of the curriculum,” Jessie told me, “the class appreciated me talking about my own path. I explained how I decided to become a UX designer, what my different work cultures have been like, what it’s like working as a single designer with a client versus on a team of a dozen designers, that kind of thing.”

Jessie’s students also enjoyed seeing examples of her projects outside the classroom. “They’d be learning things like design libraries, journey maps, and user personas,” she explained. “So I’d say, ‘Okay, that’s the course’s general examples of archetypes you’d create to represent the needs of a larger group of users: a working mom, a 20-something planning a trip, etc. But now let me tell you about hyper-specific persona needs I often encountered during my time in the aerospace sector—like a private pilot planning a trans-Atlantic expedition, or an aviation director managing in-flight satellite connectivity. You could see it in their eyes; they were making connections because it was real. And that’s where these boot camps really start to show their value for students. They see concepts in practice instead of abstract activities in a vacuum.”

Jessie's real-world example of setting up a scalable design library, from her own projects, that she used with her students in the UX/UI boot camp

“Happy” Office Hours, Delicious Analogies, and Letting It Go

When she began teaching the University of Arizona UX/UI Boot Camp last November, Jessie discovered her students came from a wide range of backgrounds. “To reach as many students as possible, I leaned into office hours,” she told me. “I kept calling them ‘happy hours’ by accident. Everyone was having such a good time getting to know each other, resolving challenges together, and then continuing on sturdy footing.”

“I found analogies helpful, too,” Jessie continued. “Some students were from a design background, but others were writers, businesspeople, even a pastry chef! I used cooking metaphors and a bunch of others applicable to everyone’s experiences. Even at the start, I described UX as the ‘bones,’ i.e. everything that structurally supports the product experience they’re creating, and UI as the ‘skin,’ i.e. what they hook to bones so everything looks good and is accessible. It helped students absorb concepts faster.”

Jessie also shared how students can start blaming themselves when things don't go perfectly. “I’d remind them it’s not their fault,” she said, “because that’s how doing new things works in the real world! As an instructor, it’s important to acknowledge that and walk the walk. When there’s a hiccup in the middle of a lesson, say oops and laugh it off, but keep pushing through.”

They were making connections because it was real. And that’s where these boot camps really start to show their value for students. They see concepts in practice instead of abstract activities in a vacuum.
— Jessie Marman, UX/UI Boot Camp Instructor, University of Arizona Continuing and Professional Education

The Boomerang Effect

When asked about her Student Choice Award, Jessie remained humble in her response. “I’m so flattered they nominated me,” she said, “but I think being a first-timer worked to my advantage. Embarking on an intensive six-month boot camp, and learning new skills to upgrade or completely change your career, can be a lot of pressure for someone. So I came in with a positive attitude and shamelessly nerded out over all my favorite topics to lighten the mood. I was also teaching an online course for the first time, so I had to show I could let my worries go, because we were all doing something new.”

Not only did Jessie’s very human teaching style pay off with students, it also boosted her own confidence. “I came away more comfortable in my authority as a designer. Being able to say you know what you’re talking about has a lot of power. For me, it’s validation that people trust me and know I’ll do the job right.”

Jessie also highlighted the networking benefits that 2U-powered programs offer both students and educators. “I’m inviting a bunch of my former students to my Phoenix Friendsgiving next month,” she said. “The design world is such a mentor-driven, word-of-mouth community. You never know when an opportunity will arise from staying in touch with people. I want my students to take advantage of that. And if I can leave my own footprint and help create more user-centric designers, then perhaps the world will be a little better of a place.”

Learn more about us.

At 2U, we’re on a mission—to eliminate the back row in higher education and help universities thrive in the digital age. To learn more about who we are and what we do, follow the links below.