Herberger Institute grad reimagines how to play instruments following rare diagnosis

Portrait of ASU grad Staçia Meconiates.

Staçia Meconiates will graduate this fall from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts with a degree in interdisciplinary digital media composition from the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and the School of Music, Dance and Theatre. Courtesy photo


Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2023 graduates.

When Staçia Meconiates was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a genetic collagen disorder that affects theirStaçia Meconiates uses they/them pronouns. ligaments, tendons and heart valves, it impacted their previous experience in music performance. 

“It has prevented me from being able to play traditional acoustic instruments, so my thesis work has focused on creating interactive multimedia that is accessible to those with disabilities,” Meconiates said. “I hope to encourage creativity and joy in interactive multimedia experiences as the field is rapidly evolving and coming into its own. Accessibility isn’t always at the forefront of multimedia design, and this is something that I’m hoping to change.”

Meconiates will graduate this fall from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts with a degree in interdisciplinary digital media (IDM) composition from the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and the School of Music, Dance and Theatre.  

They discovered the interdisciplinary digital media composition program at ASU after learning the potentials that exist in interdisciplinary studies based on previous experiences. Their passion for music and coding began in high school through leading a robotics club and being the music arranger for both marching band and pit orchestra. These experiences led them to pursue opportunities to combine these fields.

“When I was searching for graduate programs at ASU, I saw the IDM program and realized I could create virtual and interactive instruments, which drove me to apply,” they said. “Since being accepted, my work has primarily focused on designing for folks who use a wheelchair. After my mom had a stroke, she was paralyzed on her right side, and a lot of her house just wasn’t accessible. I wanted to make the world accessible to all.”

Meconiates said when their mom passed, they were working on building instruments via 3D printing and metalworking. 

“Eventually, my Ehlers-Danlos syndrome led me to look further at accessibility in developing instruments that use a gyroscope or accelerometer sensor technology,” they said. “This technology is available to almost everyone at this point, as smart watches and phones come pre-installed with it.”

Meconiates will continue to develop interactive experiences that are accessible to all and wants to bring awareness to designers to consider the perspective of someone in a wheelchair or with less mobility. 

Right now, I'm doing some freelancing audiovisual design and operation work that I'm in the process of expanding,” they said. “I've also been in talks with a few people at Ability 360 and throughout the state about accessible interactive multimedia for some new builds. Interactive experiences are a pretty new field, and I've noticed that not a lot of people are thinking about accessibility within it right now. That's something that I'm focused on changing. I'm hoping longer term to get into theme park interactivity design, especially for making pre-ride attractions more accessible.”

During their time at ASU, Meconiates received several scholarships, including the Music, Dance and Theatre Special Talent Scholarship, the Eirene Peggy Lamb Music Award, the Knowledge Mobilization Award an­­d the ASU Graduate College Scholarship.­­

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

Answer: I've been designing and building things my entire life. In high school, it was incredibly difficult to choose if I was going to major in music composition or electric engineering. I chose music composition, but throughout my undergrad was that annoying comp student who detunes all the pianos and starts sticking bits of metal into them. When I found out ASU had the IDM program, it was a perfect fit for me to combine my love of sound and my love of engineering. 

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

A: It's not exactly academic, but learning how to ask for help and realizing that usually people are happy to provide it has really changed my perspective on a lot. I wouldn't be graduating this semester if I hadn't sat down with my professors and admin and made a plan of how I was going to do this. I've had a lot of personal struggles, and it was positively surprising to see how many people were willing to help me at my pace. It wasn't something I was really good at when I first got here, and it led to me having to explain some situations to professors that had really snowballed by the time I let them know something was wrong. There were a couple times when the first time I let someone know that I needed help was after I had injured myself trying to do it myself without assistance. It also taught me how to respectfully handle people who weren't willing to accommodate. Learning how to close out a relationship without burning bridges was a very important lesson to learn. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: It was a combination of the weather, the size of the school, the facilities and the faculty. I was looking for a larger school with more resources, and when I met the music faculty here, I knew this was the place for me. Plus, I never have to shovel snow! 

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

A: I've learnt a lot from every professor I've worked with here, even some who I didn't really personally jive with. There's actually been two professors I'd like to highlight. My thesis chair, Alex Temple, was the one who really taught me the ability to admit when I'm not going to be able to do something, and how to ask for help. She's been entirely amazing about dealing with me needing to do a lot of meetings remotely due to health flare-ups. She's also got a wicked sense of humor and real knack for satire. And Laura Cechanowicz taught me how to be open about being disabled. Before meeting her, I had never actually had a professor who was open about needing mobility aids and environmental adaptations. Having a mentor be open about how she's able to handle her disabilities in a way that allows her to still create and run projects has been deeply inspiring. Both those lessons were pretty intertwined for me, and they were both lessons I needed.

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

A: Remember to balance learning and doing as much as you can with burnout, and learn how to politely say no. If you take every single opportunity, you run the risk of doing none of them very well. Focus on what opportunities you can take on without impacting your other work, whether it be academic or personal. And make time for the people you love.

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

A: There's a bathroom in the third sublevel of the music building that looks like a janitorial closet and where no one can hear you cry. It was very handy at times. Engrained Cafe in the Memorial Union is also a great spot; I've set up there for hours to get work done.

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

A: I'd put it towards tackling the crisis with our mental health system. There's a lot of people who need longer-term, in-patient care that our system fails by endlessly looping them through 72-hour holds that do very little for them. A large percentage of our housing-insecure, unhoused and incarcerated are victims of the short-term 5150 hold cycle. There's very little we can currently do to help people with complex mental health issues that would very likely benefit from longer-term, in-patient care and stabilization, as many of them refuse any sort of assistance or treatment. My father is one of these people, and he refuses to accept any of the help my brother and I have been able to safely offer in the past. These are people who may be unable to function within our structured society, but they still deserve compassionate care and a safe and secure space. It's a really complex issue that impacts our incarceration and homelessness statistics that very few people talk about.

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