Meet MK Haley
Author - ACM SIGGRAPH Member Mk Haley
My firstname.lastname@example.org alias is an excellent keeper of my history as a student and then professional member of ACM SIGGRAPH since 1989.
It’s been forwarding email to addresses across industry, academia, and even the country as I moved along past graduation and into my professional career. Oh, the emails it’s seen, the stories it has transported, but mostly the fun (and a lot of spam, are we working on that?) it’s had on this journey with me.
I became fascinated by SIGGRAPH when I heard of the conference coming to my hometown, Boston, in 1989. I was unable to attend as a student volunteer or an attendee, I had to work that week to pay my tuition. Several of my classmates crashed at my parent’s house for the week (free housing, and my mom made them nice breakfasts) and they came back with tales of awesomeness. Animation, interactive thingies, supercomputers! I worked some overnight shifts to get the day free to attend, and it was fantastic! To this day I vividly recall seeing things wide-eyed for the first time, Pixar’s Knick Knack (in 3D!) Pioneers who wrote my textbooks conversing with us like we were worthy, and research papers that let me know what to expect in the mainstream in the very near future. It was intimidating, intoxicating, and I joined ACM SIGGRAPH and got a mug right on the spot!
What I saw at SIGGRAPH ’89 inspired me to continue my education in this fairly new discipline, from the Design side at least. I went to grad school to be better at what I wanted to do, and I saw a zillion examples of things I wanted to do at SIGGRAPH 89. I had my SIGGRAPH alias forwarded to a new University!
It was in grad school, as a student, Graduate Teaching Assistant, and High School Computer Animation instructor, that I got more involved with the organization, not just working as a Student Volunteer onsite at the conference each year, but also becoming deeply engaged with the ACM SIGGRAPH Education Committee. Jackie White (current SIGGRAPH Conference Advisory Group Chair, & SIGGRAPH 2000 Conference Chair) whom I worked with in grad school was highly persuasive in regard to the contributions ACM SIGGRAPH needed me to make. I was excited to contribute as editor for the Education Committee Newsletter, as well as co-chair of the Student Poster and Animation Competition and Exhibition (SPACE - http://education.siggraph.org/students/competitions/call-2010) These activities, which had elements that were ongoing year round, as well as a presence onsite at the conference, allowed me to work across teams, with some amazing people, and put some fine experience on my resume as a young grad student and almost professional. To this day I am honoured to work with the quality people I encounter via SIGGRAPH, senior execs who treated me like a peer when I was a kid as we worked on joint SIGGRAPH projects. And the student volunteers I shared hotel rooms with (Do you know that they stack us four to a room?) have gone on to be some of the senior leaders and creative visionaries in the industry, and we all still call each other friends. It’s a dynamic community that presumes to respect each other right off the bat, and that encourages honest collaboration and effort to support each other.
I was hired as an intern with Walt Disney Imagineering in 1994. Forwarded my siggraph.org alias again. I remember the interview went like this. “So let’s get this straight, you are a designer, an animator, an art student, and you know how to code on a unix box? How on earth do you even know what an SGI box is?” “SIGGRAPH” I told them! I did double duty at the SIGGRAPH 1994 Conference in Orlando as both a Disney employee staffing our booth on the show floor, and as a Student Volunteer. When Disney desperately needed volunteers to showcase their Virtual Reality attraction at the booth, it was a great advantage to have several hundred eager Student Volunteer buddies all vying to “help” during their off-time. And this is just the beginning of my professional life and SIGGRAPH volunteer work intermingling in fantastically symbiotic ways.
I have been a volunteer continuously with SIGGRAPH for all 16 years I have been lucky to be employed by Walt Disney Imagineering and other teams. Even as an intern, my direct managers were always happy to support my time at the SIGGRAPH conference. They considered the experience onsite, and especially the opportunities as a volunteer, to be of great value in my professional development. Soon the two worlds merged, I was working in and around interactive technologies and experiences, and I was jurying them for the SIGGRAPH Emerging Technologies Venue. I served with amazing people, so when Imagineering asked “Who do we know at the Media Lab?” I had a rolodex of awesome to share. I was in my late 20’s when I was SIGGRAPH Student Volunteer Chair, I had over 700 student volunteers onsite, a subcommittee of over 30 volunteers and numerous contractors that I worked with. That experience specifically led to professional roles supervising teams, in particular student teams, long before I might otherwise have had the chance, because SIGGRAPH gave me the opportunity and means to gain experience in the arena. I have continued to be involved in education as a direct result of SIGGRAPH and Disney permitting me to intermingle the two alongside my full-time commitments over the years.
I specifically remember being awed and influenced by Turner Whitted and Andrew Glassner as part of the 1997 SIGGRAPH Committee. Turner, in part because he was so normal. He was so famous in my head as a researcher, and was just the politest unassuming southern gentleman who was truly engaged with everyone he worked with. He reinforced that greatness is how you behave, not how you publish. And Andrew, lordy, is a pure fireball. His passion is infectious, he does his homework, and he can articulately convince you to do whatever he wants, because he has his facts, and heck, he is so excited! You want to be part of whatever he is involved in. He makes unbridled enthusiasm the norm at the conference table and he inspires you with a call to action, always, a call to action.
Depending upon my other commitments, I was happy to support the SIGGRAPH Los Angeles chapter, in particular with site visits to Disney. It was a special treat that I was often entrusted with SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival gold master to share internally at The Walt Disney Company as a trusted member of both the SIGGRAPH Community and the Disney family. That is a role that can only be earned over time, and both teams have a model of allowing you the opportunity to do so. http://features.cgsociety.org/story_custom.php?story_id=3902
I joined the ACM SIGGRAPH Executive Committee as Director for Communications and got to learn all about Robert’s Rules of Orders and how a non-profit operates at a very high level. These things were totally foreign to me prior to that, rarely do creative teams ask for official permission to speak. Rob Cook, who served as a Director at Large at the same time I served, was especially influential on not just the organization at the time, but me personally. His grasp of bylaws, policies, contracts and other operational documents was vast, and he was eager to share in common English best practices for change as we did some major re-organization of the dynamic organization. He did not just do the hard work, he taught the rest of the team, who had far less experience, how to navigate the complexities.
It was at SIGGRAPH 2008 where, on the same show floor, I got two irresistible opportunities for my next alias jump. Disney had just announced our new R&D labs in Zurich and Pittsburgh, with frequent SIGGRAPH contributors Jessica Hodgins and Marcus Gross as lab leads, and I was asked if would like to support the teams. At this time Dr. Don Marinelli (SIGGRAPH 2010 Keynote Speaker http://www.siggraph.org/s2010/for_media/siggraph_2010_news_releases_release_2) from the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University also invited me to consider a move to Pittsburgh to support the team there after Randy Pausch’s passing. I have a passion for mixing academia and industry, art and technology, breaking down walls and creating engaging experiences. And Pittsburgh is a hub of academic innovation, in particular for the graphics, robotics, and interactive technologies communities, I knew I would be among friends. (You can see some details of the Encounters Venue I oversaw for SIGGRAPH 2008 and 2009 online that also focused on these things here at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7IsAYpRREE . It had to be fate! I could stay with Disney supporting the global research teams, AND I could work with the most awesome next generation of students creating games and other interactive experiences? I packed my alias and began the next phase of my professional journey to Pittsburgh in the Fall of 2009. Once again, and into the future, my professional and SIGGRAPH worlds collide. The Disney Labs Research teams worked feverishly over the Fall to submit work for consideration to the conference, many of my ETC students were accepted at Student Volunteers for the conference this summer, and of course my boss is Keynote Speaker! It’s a delicious goulash that I look forward to enjoying for a long time still. Regardless of where I go or what I do, the one constant for me has been the people who are SIGGRAPH, at work and at play.
About the Author:
is an Associate Executive Producer at Carnegie Mellon University Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) and serves in both faculty and administrative roles. She joined the team full-time after serving as an adjunct faculty member and as a program advisor for more than ten years.
With experience in design, digital media, experience design, in research with Walt Disney Imagineering and the Disney-ABC Television group for more than 15 years as well as serving as a faculty member at several university programs over the past the past 20 years, Mk has always been thrilled to merge technology and design, education and industry in new and engaging ways. MK is also a contributing author to several books published by Walt Disney Imagineering on the creative process.
With ongoing roles at the Disney Research labs at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and as a serving executive committee member for SIGGRAPH, Mk continues to serve industry, academia, research and the community all together for the best possible collaborations across disciplines and genres.