With ConvergeFL starting Thursday, we finish our sneak peek of speakers with Dr. Leslie Jensen-Inman, a maker of awesomeness and a doer of good hailing from Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Tyler Houle: Can you tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

Dr. Leslie Jensen-Inman: I work to connect industry, education, and community. Jared Spool and I co-founded the Unicorn Institute, a research project rethinking user experience design education. Through this project, we’re identifying existing gaps between education and industry while focusing on building new UX career pathways.

Most mainstream schools don’t adequately prepare graduates to enter the professional world of user experience design. In general, our industry moves fast and focuses on practice; academia moves slowly and focuses on theory. Furthermore, even if their curriculum were properly aligned with the needs of industry, there would simply not be enough graduates to fill the job openings that exist in user experience design.

TH: How did you end up in your current role? Was it always your intention to work in web design?

LJI: This question made me giggle because when I first started out in design, there really wasn’t web design—not in the way we think of it now. When I started, spacerGIFs were only a dream and then, of course, they became a nightmare…I mean a reality.

I wanted to be a designer since I was 14 years old; my mom likes to tell stories about me obsessing over typography and kerning when I was five. Web design was a progression from print design. I saw the Web as a different medium for design and communication. Before co-founding the Unicorn Institute, I was a professor at a university for five years. Before that, I owned my own design company. Once, I was the only graphic designer on a Warner Bros. film that starred Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman. I feel fortunate to have designed a lot of things, in a lot of mediums. Like a lot of people in our industry, my background is really varied. I’ve always been a jack-of-all-trades, but now I get to call myself a “unicorn,” which is much more fun (and allows for more sequins).

The Unicorn Institute allows me to channel all of my past professional experiences into one focused adventure. It allows me to be fully immersed in two of my favorite areas: design and learning.

TH: Your keynote is titled, “Unicornucopia: Learn the Skills Needed to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Unicorn.” What can we expect to learn from your session?

LJI: Hiring managers need to hire creative unicorns with a specific skill set. And the skills they are looking for may surprise you. Through our research at the Unicorn Institute, we’ve learned some of those top soft skills include presenting, facilitating, critiquing, storytelling, and more. Attendees will learn how to hone and blend these skills to have a creative career filled with an abundance of awesomeness.

TH: Have we made any strides recently in the need to bridge the gap between academia and industry? What else can be done by people on both sides?

LJI: Wow, this question just made me sad. Okay, it’s not the question but it’s the answer that saddens me. There hasn’t been big strides made towards bridging the gap between education and industry—at least not at most traditional universities and design schools. There hasn’t been a lot of action and change around creating holistic design education programs. Hiring companies still are searching for talent that isn’t being produced. Recent graduates are entering the field lacking the skills they need in order to survive and thrive in the workplace.

However, there have been a plethora of new education start-ups mostly focused on the development side of the Web. It’s exciting to finally see other people see education as a sexy challenge. It’s great that people are talking more about design education.

My suggestion for professionals, learners, and educators is to connect and engage with each other. Together, we make our industry.

TH: Well said. Are there any other speakers you’re looking forward to seeing at ConvergeFL?

LJI: Well, this is a tricky question because I’m looking forward to seeing ALL of them. Have you seen the lineup? There’s a great diversity of people and topics!

Be sure to catch Leslie’s keynote session, Thursday, September 12, “Unicornucopia: Learn the Skills Needed to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Unicorn.” There is only a short time left to register for ConvergeFL, so grab your ticket quick!