MSU Denver '09
Change Maker. Life Saver. Roadrunner.
The dictionary will tell you a 3-D object has height, width and depth. When you learn about Dara Dotz (B.S. industrial design ’09) you quickly see she’s living life in 3-D – a life bursting at the seams.
Her official work title is industrial designer. It doesn’t do her justice though.
In the few years she’s been out of school, she’s worked, studied and lived in 37 countries helping victims of disasters with 3-D technology (she also helped get a 3-D printer into space). She’s given a TED talk. She’s started a nonprofit. She’s created an innovation lab in Haiti. And she’s helped bring drinking water to remote villages.
In short, a one-woman world class maker who’s living a life in full. But if you’d met her before her MSU Denver days, you’d never have guessed it.
“Everyone said I wasn’t smart enough to go to college. But you know what? I did anyway,” Dotz says.
She suffered from attention deficit disorder. “I have an extreme case of it. I can’t sit still or read a book. Writing is hard for me. To write a report is agony.”
But, Dotz doesn’t see problems as problems. They are obstacles to overcome.
“Now I’m the first in my family to finish college and that feels good,” she says.
She says her life began its upward arc at MSU Denver. In particular, the TRiO services college prep program that helps low-income and first-generation, college-bound high school students succeed in college. “It gave me access to tutors – I’m still friends with my writing tutor. It gave me a safe place to be me and to figure things out with my ADD,” she says. “In essence I was able to remake myself.”
And she says when she discovered industrial design, ‘I was like, what? I can make things for a career? I’m in,’” Dotz says. “My favorite classes were the ones where I could be hands-on and move around a lot. MSU Denver was a perfect fit. All my professors genuinely cared about me and how I learned,” she said. “They never gave up on me so I never gave up on myself. I want them to know how much they touched my life.”
Dotz says she’s always enjoyed working with wood and sculpting – even from childhood. “I loved art and building things, playing with my hands … sculpting.”
And her interest in helping others bloomed at age five when she noticed her first, best friend who had been adopted from Guatemala had scars on her hands. “She was punished growing up by having her hands burned. It was the first time I realized the world wasn’t fair.”
The sight was seared into Dotz’s mind. She stuck with industrial design with an ever-watchful eye on the less fortunate. While earning her degree, Dotz traveled abroad for several months to help build refugee housing, harvest rainwater and complete other sustainability projects. And on campus she started student-run organizations to gain more volunteers and funds for those efforts in poor countries.
Today Dotz is continuing her international work as co-founder and lead designer for Field Ready, a nonprofit that trains locals how to print needed supplies via 3-D printing after disasters. Products include baby incubators, generators, and sterilized umbilical cord clamps.
“I play, love and live with passion, and that’s my message to today’s students: “Do what feels right and know that just because people may not understand you doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. If there’s something you really want to do, then no one can stop you. If you stop, it’s not what you really want to do. You’ll have challenges but it’s those challenges that create the unique, beautiful you.”