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As part of the first cohort of animation students to graduate this year from Ulster University, Mary Stewart has landed her dream job in Chicago with a top creative design agency after impressing the MU/DAI team during a summer internship in the Windy City.

Mary, from Holywood County Down, started her journey at Ulster University in 2011 enrolling on a foundation year at Ulster University's Belfast School of Art.

"I always knew I wanted to pursue a career in the creative arts but I just wasn't sure what specialism to choose. The foundation course at Ulster University gives you the opportunity to explore many areas of art and design and it was during this time that I discovered my passion for animation – much to my surprise as I had always considered myself to be much more of a fine artist.

"The next year Ulster University was opening the design for animation degree and I knew it was the course for me. Throughout my studies I got the opportunity to learn from the best including our lecturers, some of whom have previously worked for Disney and Dreamworks. I also got to take part in Skype Q&As with industry professionals such as James Baker from Pixar and James George from Specular who were a real inspiration as to where a career in animation can lead you.

"For my placement year I took part in the British Council's study abroad programme at Loyola University Chicago. This year studying business was incredible - it gave me the opportunity to leverage my creative skills to tackle real world business challenges and of course meet some really great friends along the way. 

"I also connected with Chicago's creative industries by getting involved in conferences and events that were held throughout the year such as HOW Design Live, Chicago Ideas week and Campus 1871. Whether for inspiration, mentorship, or even a job, building my network of creative thinkers was an invaluable experience that helped me connect in the global creative community.

"As my time in Chicago was nearing an end I realised I wasn't ready to go home and wanted to spend the summer developing my skills with a design agency before I entered my final year at University. I managed to secure the role of experience design intern with MU/DAI and spent the summer of 2015 developing an internal brand strategy as well as creating digital products for international clients such as Visa and New Era.

"After a fantastic summer, I went back to final year at University and spent months working on my final year project - a virtual reality documentary film based on the portrait painter Colin Davidson.

"I believe there is a story in everything and I love the challenge of communicating a message in a creative way. I love the work that I do and feel really lucky to have found a vocation that I am genuinely passionate about. Having been awarded a first class honours, I have secured a full time position with MU/DAI as an interaction designer. I am excited to re-join the MU/DAI team and start the next chapter of my life in Chicago."