Danielle Chen poses with Minions from the Despicable Me franchise. Her co-op employer Hasbro makes many Minion-themed toys and games.
This is one of a regular series profiling Drexel students and their co-ops.
Working at international toy company Hasbro as a design researcher sounds like fun and games, but Danielle Chen, a product design major, wasn’t sure if she wanted to work with toy design. Having completed her co-op, the international student from China is using the research she created on toys specifically made for Chinese children for her senior project on the food and culture of Chinese-born Americans.
“Before I went on to my co-op, I was confused about what I could contribute to the design world, and what makes me special in the field,” said Chen. “I had a conversation with my employer at the end of my co-op, and she pointed out one thing that I really, really appreciated — it sounds cliché, but she helped me to see my own value.”
That value, Chen said, is her experience playing with toys growing up in China and later studying them as a design student in the United States. At Hasbro, Chen researched the Chinese toy industry and developed Hasbro products for the Chinese toy market. Now, Chen plans to use that professional and cultural background to create toys specifically made for American-born Chinese children.
“My employer thought I would be a good resource for Hasbro’s plan to introduce certain toys in China, which we talked about in the job interview. And when I started working there, my employers saw I was really valuable because I gave them a lot of information about China that they had no idea about,” said Chen.
Though she can’t give too many details about the China-centric project or other projects she worked on at the famous toy company, Chen was part of a special group that worked with a lot of Hasbro’s many brands, including childhood favorites like My Little Pony, Transformers and Baby Alive.
“Typically, Hasbro has different departments that focus on just one or two brands. But for our department, we looked at all brands and tried to bring creativity and innovation to all of them. We were thinking outside the system or the platform,” she said.
Chen was sometimes working on five or six projects at a time at Hasbro. She was involved with various aspects of the design process, including brainstorming, completing design research, sketching and even prototyping, or making tangible, 3-D toys concepts. This required a lot of collaboration. Chen worked like working with engineers to create the toys and choosing what fabric and material could be used. Some of the prototypes she had made were included in presentations to all the senior managers.
According to Chen, her experiences joining student organizations at Drexel and working with people across the University helped her adapt to the fast-paced work at Hasbro. Her design research courses at Drexel and her work with Drexel’s various 3-D printers also came in handy.
“I’m personally very passionate and interested in 3-D printing, which I’ve done a lot of at school. I printed a whole box worth of stuff during my co-op,” she said.
At the end of her spring/summer co-op in Providence, Rhode Island, Chen started brainstorming about what she wanted to do with her senior thesis.
“I started thinking about doing something with toys and Chinese people, but then I realized it’s more important, especially while I’m here in America, to work with American-born Chinese children. They’re experiencing something completely different than what I had experienced growing up in China, since these children have been shaped a lot by the mainstream American culture,” said Chen.
As a result, Chen formed her senior project around helping American-born Chinese children realize or celebrate their heritage through the lens of traditional Chinese food and its globalization. She hopes to work in the toy industry after she graduates.
“I think a lot of people don’t know what they’re trying to do. For product design, the field is just so broad — you can do anything with it. But I love being able to create something that communicates with people—not just kids,” she said.
About the Drexel Co-op program: More than 98 percent of eligible undergraduate students at Drexel University participate in the co-op program, balancing full-time classes and up to three different internships during their time at Drexel. Students can choose from more than 1,700 employers in 33 states and 48 international locations — plus endless possibilities through self-arranged placements.