This week, we had an inspiring conversation with Crystal Rhee, the winner of the “Seeing Home” competition. The competition was created by and sponsored by Wayfair, the company that’s reinventing the way the world shops for home.
This competition challenged applicants to use their software development skills to create a web or mobile application to help students/families stay organized. For Crystal’s $3,000 winning submission, she created a web app that lets roommates make announcements to each other, keep track of tasks, appliance use, trash, guests, and rent!
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
My name is Crystal Rhee and I’m a fourth-year computer science and finance major at Northeastern University. I moved around a lot as a kid, and have lived in at least three cities in China, two cities in South Korea, and three in the U.S. I spent more time dancing freshman year than on my academics but now I’m a full-time student and part-time dancer.
What feeling(s) did you have when you found out you were the winner of Wayfair’s Competition?
I didn’t have time to think much about the competition after I submitted because I was still in middle of my summer semester and after about a week with no response, I thought that there was no chance I could have won. I received the call on the day of my departure to South Korea for a study abroad program and at first, I thought I heard wrong. Once it dawned on me, of course I was excited, but had a hard time believing that something I made deserved the title of winner!
What inspired you for your submission?
At the time of the competition, I lived with one roommate and three suitemates. My submission was based on the challenges that we experienced, such as putting dirty dishes in the dishwasher when all the dishes are clean or individuals not checking group messages.
What do you think makes your submission stand out? Can you share what went through your mind as you worked on the submission?
Honestly, I didn’t think that my submission would stand out. The prompt for the competition says, “create a dashboard to help students/families stay organized” but the name of the competition, “Seeing Home”, seemed to imply something more personal and familiar. So, I decided to base my submission on my perspective as a user; what would I want in a dashboard I would use and what would I want to communicate with my roommates in my current living situation?
What did you learn throughout the submission process — about yourself, your inspiration, the community or the industry?
I went out to some of the events hosted by ScholarJet where I met people from various backgrounds who were working on various competitions. The tech community in Boston felt very open and inviting, and it was encouraging for me as someone who is about to graduate and enter the industry!
What did you learn about Wayfair and the meaning behind their competition?
I already knew a little about Wayfair and what they do (as I am a customer). My interpretation for the meaning of the competition is that they wanted a dashboard where an individual can see the state of their home, which should be where an individual feels the most like themselves and in-control- whether they live alone or with others.
Why do you think it is important to have an alternative approach to hiring and scholarships?
I think that it inspires people to try to get more involved with the community and seek out opportunities that they otherwise would not have.
With your hard work, talents and skills how are you looking to create a better future?
My immediate goals after graduation is to work with a company that has visions that align with mine; an organization where I can make significant impact. I enjoy learning about different aspects of product development and problem-solving, especially at intersections of fields. With this, I hope to be doing more than software engineering.
What are two pieces of advice you have for future students who are looking to participate in ScholarJet competitions?
You have more resources available than you think and, as cliche as it is, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If you could have lunch with any person in this world, who would it be and why?
Punch Bunny, a Korean locking dancer. Dance has been something ambiguous between a hobby and a serious sport for me. I never wanted to pursue a career out of dance, but I also took dance more seriously than a hobby. Because I felt like I wasn’t serious enough about it to continue, I quit dancing for more than a year to focus more on career growth and spend time on things that would be considered as investments.
It wasn’t until I studied abroad in China in 2018 that I joined a dance crew focused on freestyle by chance that I figured out what I liked. It did not matter that it wasn’t my career path—I liked being with the people that I trusted, having to take part in cyphers (freestyle circles) that put me out of my comfort zone, and being a part of something that felt bigger than just me. My time in China was shaped by the dancers that I danced with, and I learned valuable lessons about determination, creativity, and teamwork.
After coming back to the United States, I never found another dance crew like the one I found but I maintained my interest and practice in the style through Instagram. Punch Bunny was the first dancer that I ever followed.