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Digital culture graduating student embodies ASU's entrepreneurial spirit

Photo of Hayley Steiner

Hayley Steiner

April 22, 2022

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

Hayley Steiner has already created one business and is now laying the groundwork for another company. 

“I have so many business ideas already thought out,” said Steiner, who graduates this spring with a master’s degree in digital culture from the School of Arts, Media and Engineering. 

“I actually already have started one company so far that is called The Protein Lab, which is a company that is only aimed at finding ways to turn certain types of food into high protein foods,” she said.

Steiner describes the company on its Instagram account as a “one woman owned business” that “aims to find new solutions for high protein nutritional meals.”

For the Arizona-based business, she makes protein balls in different flavors and with high amounts of collagen, the main structural protein found in the body. 

“With this company, I hope to open storefronts in the future and eventually keep introducing new products with high amounts of protein,” Steiner said. 

Steiner’s said that her mind never rests when it comes to ways to help the world, and she already has a new idea for a future business. 

“Many people buy clothes from clothing brands like Nike and Adidas without even realizing that these companies are using a technology that allows them to use plastics in their products,” she said. “There is also another clothing company called Girlfriend Collective that uses plastic to create thread which they then use to create all their workout products.

"My idea would be not only to use plastic, but to find technology to be able to break down all types of trash. Then with all the new textiles created from all the different types of trash, the textiles would be combined with other materials like wood or bamboo to make furniture. This would help solve a huge problem but also be a company that creates sustainable furniture.” 

With the help of the ASU Venture Devils program, Steiner is taking the first steps toward this new venture. 

“I have been accepted into this program and now have access to mentors, which is a huge blessing,” she said. “This idea would take a very long time to create, as there needs to be research done to see if this is even a possibility to break down all types of trash into new textiles. There would need to be prototypes made to see if it is possible to use these textiles to create furniture.

"Right now, I am working with one mentor who has given me advice on how to start this research. I am hoping that in the future I will be able to create a company that would be able to achieve this.” 

Here, she talks a little more about her time at ASU.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I studied graphic design in my undergraduate program and have always loved visualizations. I graduated with my bachelor's in 2016. I worked for a few years in the field and then decided to make a huge life decision. I decided to completely change my career and teach English abroad for a year. In 2018, I moved to Japan and was an English teacher in an after-school program. It was an amazing experience.

At this point of my life, I had some experience with technology but not a lot. I always found interactive design to be so interesting and knew I wanted to get into that — not only to do designs for print, but designing for interactive media and technology purposes. It definitely hit me harder when I went to the Team Lab Borderless Mori Digital Art Museum in Tokyo. In this museum, they have huge installations with projections and some with motion capture. It was very interactive, and this is also how I got inspired to find a graduate school program where I could get the skills for this kind of design.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I really enjoyed being in a graduate program where everyone seemed like they were collaborating. Being part of the digital culture master’s program was very interesting, because there were not that many students in the program. I was able to interact with mostly the same students. It was really interesting to see everyone evolve and especially receive feedback from them on my ideas. It showed me that we are all in this together when it comes to accomplishing our goals and gaining new knowledge. It was also beneficial to see that everyone has been working on their goals for a while and nothing just comes instantly.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: While I was doing my research to find a program, I realized that there were not a lot of schools that offered a program that encompassed all the things I wanted to learn. Most design schools only offered specific courses. Universities only offered programs for motion capture that were aimed for filmmaking. I also knew I did not want to only specialize in artificial intelligence.

I was really hoping to have a new experience and live somewhere else besides Arizona. However, I remembered some of my friends were in the digital culture bachelor’s program when I was an undergraduate. I looked into the program, and it ended up that ASU was also offering a master’s program for it as well. This is when I knew it would be the best choice for me to study at ASU again.

The digital culture program offered many paths of study, including motion capture, artificial intelligence, mobile development, software engineering and more. This is exactly what I was looking for. I wanted a program that could give me all these skills, and it definitely did. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I have worked alongside Pavan Turaga a lot in the two and half years I have been in the graduate program. TheyTuraga uses they/them pronouns. really taught me, and probably the other students as well, that it's much more important to show the skills you have at the moment of what you grasp and to keep improving. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Whether you are in your undergraduate or graduate program, I think it is really important to try to gain as much knowledge as you can in the field you are trying to get into. Really look out for any opportunities to gain more skills. This means making connections with not only professors but your peers as well. Sometimes, your peers have so much to teach you. Don’t be afraid to ask your peers for advice and to see if they will help you understand something better. There are so many people with different levels of knowledge. It’s never too late to see what you can gain from asking your peers to share with you.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: Both in my undergrad and graduate school programs, I definitely enjoyed going to Charlie’s Cafe. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I decided that until my business completely takes off, I definitely want to find a job with the knowledge I gained from this master's degree. I am going to be applying to many different jobs, including augmented and virtual reality positions and motion capture stage technician positions. I will also be applying for positions related to digital design and data visualization. I am applying to places all over the country and even in Europe. Right now, I do not know what will happen, and it’s exciting to see where I might end up. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I actually have thought about this before, if I ever started a nonprofit company that was successful and was only aimed at solving an issue. In the Phoenix area, there is an apartment complex that is only made out of shipping containers. I have thought that if I ever had enough money to do this, I would like to find a way to purchase as many empty shipping containers as possible and turn them into centers for homeless people. The homeless issue in America is so terrible, but also there is not enough space to house all of them. These centers would also have water and electricity set up in them and also would already be furnished. Basically, it would be like an Airbnb or long-term stay hotel. It would include a kitchen as well. It would be amazing to be able to do this across the nation.

Not only does this help people but it also solves one more issue, which is trash. All the empty shipping containers, if not ever used again, are usually going to end up in a landfill. That is a huge issue. So that would be my goal to be able to tackle two issues at once. There would be some problems with trying to create this of course. For instance, how could we transport all these shipping containers to cities not near sea ports? Also, there would have to be a system to figure out how long a family or individual could stay in these homeless centers. As well, we would have to figure out how we would take care of hygiene and safety issues each time the temporary homes become open again for new people to inhabit the space.  

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