Why We Serve: Alyssa Kropp
In this series, you’ll hear stories from USDSers and learn why they decided to join, why they stay, and how their work is making an impact for Americans.
Alyssa Kropp (she/her), Service Designer at USDS. Previously international development to strategy and design. From Dorset, Vermont.
What led you to become a service designer at USDS?
There’s a couple of things that I think are vital in my journey to get to USDS. Namely, I grew up in a relatively small, rural town; I’m a first-generation college student; and I like to try new things.
First, growing up in a small town wires you a bit differently. For context: I went to Kindergarten through eighth grade with the same 20ish kids. When my car slid off into a ditch during a snowstorm in high school, a neighbor brought his tractor to pull it out the next day. A propensity to help your community is built into the fabric of (my experience of) small town life and is deeply embedded within me.
Second, I had no idea what I was doing when I went to college. I happened upon a class within the Community and International Development major and it blew my mind that there was a space that combined both learning how things work and figuring out how to improve them. That experience was my first view into looking at context, systems, and scale when solving problems, and was instrumental in me being able to see beyond my own nose.
Finally, I was working in international development and frustrated with how parts of that system worked. I randomly applied and got into a two-week intensive called Breaker that introduced me to human-centered design and showed me that yes, you can include the people you’re serving and their ideas in your process and work. Being open to trying new things and change in general has been instrumental in my career growth.
That commitment to community, thinking in systems, and passion for trying new things have all combined into what I love about design and are how I filter my jobs. So, when I saw a post from a former USDSer about working on things that matter, my ears perked up, and I applied thinking I wouldn’t hear back. Yet here we are.
What is your day-to-day like as a service designer at USDS?
I’m currently supporting work at the Small Business Administration, where our team is collaborating with career public servants to re-imagine and advise on a variety of customer experience touch points across the agency.
Since we’re working on various projects, my day-to-day is a bit all over the place. I’m not a morning person, so I try to save my mornings for catching up on emails and messages. Then, the day can evolve into planning a workshop, conducting a research interview, collaborating in an online whiteboard with my colleagues, visualizing a process map, or meeting with our agency partners to make decisions.
One of my favorite parts of the job is that it varies and I’ve been able to lean into skills that I like or want to develop alongside amazing, dedicated, brilliant colleagues. I learn something new from them every day, and I feel so privileged to be able to pick their brains.
What’s your superpower?
Listening and synthesizing (which go hand in hand!)
Can you talk about a project you’re super proud of?
I’m currently working on the Disaster Life Experience project. We’re not done yet, so something small is that we’ve been able to speak to disaster survivors from across the U.S., their supporters, staff helping them at nonprofits, plus state, local, tribal, and territory governments.
Being able to pay survivors for this work, which is hard and can be re-traumatizing if done poorly, has been instrumental and something I’m proud USDS is able to do. Additionally, ensuring that survivors’ experiences are directly communicated was something the team really pushed for, so that leaders were hearing directly from them via quotes and stories. Now, leaders can start to see how government policies, products, and services around disasters work (or don’t!). So, I’m proud of the small wins for now!
What’s your sales pitch for USDS?
If you’re passionate about helping others, are okay navigating complexity, like a challenge, and are fine working both individually and in a team, USDS is for you. If you’re reading this and thinking about applying — do it! This is your sign!
I’ll be honest — this work can be chaotic and challenging. We’re dealing with legacy technologies, unclear processes, and barriers to real communication that can make it feel like you’re moving the needle a fraction of an inch. But it’s all worth it when I get to see our career agency partners excited to incorporate our practices into the work, whether that’s talking to small business owners themselves or asking for more brainstorm or workshop-like sessions because they were the most fun and most productive meeting they’ve had.
It really is the long-lasting impact that’s most inspiring for me.
What’s on your playlist/reading list/Netflix queue?
I’ve been creating playlists for each season since I was in college. Right now, the following are on high rotation: “Sáré” by Simi, “No Effort” by Princess Nokia, and “home” by Two Shell (to just name a few.)
What books, music, film/television, or art changed you? How?
I think the documentary Urbanized is my most recommended because of how amazingly concisely it showcases design at scale. It’s a great film to learn about systems and design’s role within it, and was critical in my pivot to the design field.
If you’d like to work on these important projects, join us! We’re hiring mission-driven engineers, product managers, designers, bureaucracy hackers, procurement specialists, and operations pros who want to make an impact on the lives of their fellow Americans. Apply here.
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