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Discovering How Sound Can Shape Unforgettable Experiences

With a background in theater, performance, and singing, Claire Krupela ’22 enjoys music and sound—but has always found herself enthralled with the intersection of business, technology, and design as well.

As an undergraduate at Washington University in St. Louis, she majored in economics strategy with minors in design and computer science to feed this passion.

“I’m a big game-theory nerd, and that program was perfect,” she describes. “I absolutely loved it. I didn’t want to lose any of those parts of me. They all seem pretty different, but they work together beautifully.”

After graduation, she landed an internship with Walt Disney Imagineering, the creative force behind Disney theme parks. Achieving this dream internship made her even more excited for a tangible career path in this field.

As a content and partnership planning intern, she helped manage the flow of intellectual property (licensed, owned, and acquired brands, movies, characters, stories, and settings) into and out of Disney parks. The work involved everything from making sure the Avengers Campus was in lockstep with Marvel brand guidelines to coordinating efforts to develop new brand partnership placements within the parks.Claire Krupela

“Throughout that experience, I realized that my passions lie in storytelling and creating experiences for people,” she says. When COVID-19 hit the United States in March 2020, however, Krupela was one of the 32,000 Disney workers who were laid off. She left California and headed back to Missouri and her family as she thought about her next steps—which she realized could include graduate school.

One evening, as she was scrolling through Instagram, she saw an ad for Northwestern’s MA in Sound Arts and Industries program.

“It was the type of master’s program I was looking for,” she explains. “I knew I wanted something interdisciplinary but also something focused on exploring and making. A lot of things clicked for me about the program. I’ve always been fascinated with sound, but it didn’t seem like a viable option because I didn’t know there was a clear way to learn about it.” After attending an online info session, she applied and kept her fingers crossed.

A few months later—in January 2021—she was offered a content operations coordinator position at media company Common Sense Networks to build tracking systems and databases that support the launch of its kid-safe Sensical streaming service.

Although it was a hectic time—starting a new job and applying to a new graduate program within the span of just two days—she says she wouldn’t have it any other way. In February 2021, she found out she had been accepted into the program.

“It has been fantastic for me,” she says. “It’s not just about art—it’s about understanding the science and technical sides of sound. I enjoy the freedom and support we get as we pursue what we want. We get to go in the direction we choose to go with our assignments.”

So far, she says that learning the nuances of Max programming language and developing an audio-based video game as part of an elective have been high points. Other standout moments include creating an eight-minute podcast about the Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist and transforming natural sounds into mechanical, futuristic, and manmade sounds as she used cat noises to create the sound of an engine starting. “I’m only making things that bring me joy,” she says. “And where else can you do that?”

She’s also looking forward to the upcoming Sound for Augmented and Virtual Reality and VR Sound with Ambisonics classes. “I’m ready to lean into that and see how I can use VR in the future, especially given recent announcements about things like Meta and its VR social platform,” she says. “We’re getting to see the cutting edge and newness of what’s happening right now. I’m so excited about where all this will lead.”

Once she earns her MA in Sound Arts and Industries, Krupela plans to transition from the business side of experience design to the creative side, whether that means back to theme parks or working in a different industry (video games, VR, etc.).

“So many of the questions that I’ve been thinking about as I entered the program have already been answered,” she says. “In every single class, I learn something new. I’m making these connections between very separate things that I’ve wondered about. Having those theories confirmed is incredible. I can’t wait to see what’s next!”

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