I am an undergraduate student in computer science in an area of the USA that doesn't have much going for it (Nebraska)
I think you may be selling your state short; I could say the same thing about Arizona, if I knew it wasn't false.
and I spend most of my time working on projects using Processing, Arduino, openFrameworks and more for fun. I even secured a grant last year to bring technologies like these into my university, and am actually going to be teaching a course this semester on interactive and generative art.
Good for you - use this time well, because when you get out into the real world, paying bills, having a relationship and a mortgage, there won't be many opportunities to explore in the same manner.
But in May, I graduate, and I really want to keep going, applying myself in the field of interaction design, as close to the edge as possible. But it SEEMS like all of the 'fun' interaction design work going on in the world right now is happening in design schools, and whenever I ask advisors from these schools about attending, they all tell me that with a degree in computer science, I'm screwed. Everyone I've talked to insists that I must have extensive art history knowledge and an art portfolio to rival any of their own undergraduate art students.
Personally, I would quietly say to myself (or loudly to them - whatever you feel as an artist) "screw you". Then I would plan a trip to this year's Burning Man, and meet up with people doing real interactive art.
In effect, it feels as though theres a monstrous wave of creative development going on right now (3D printers, interactive installations, experimental music, and so much more), but I'm not "allowed" to participate!
Define your own limits - don't let other define them for you.
I hate the idea of being a "weekend warrior" where I only toy with tech on nights and weekends between a crappy full-time cubicle job, so does anyone have any advice for me?
Hey - that sounds like me; except I love my job, and I don't work in a cubicle currently. My advice, though, is to realize that sooner or later, schooling will stop (though your education can and should continue!), and you just may end up in a "crappy full-time cubicle job". From what I have seen, its either that, or living as a "starving artist in a rented bohemian flat with a lot of roommates" (and/or still working a "crappy cubicle job" to pay rent). Ultimately, its a choice you'll have to make (and by all means, there are other options - so while you have the time, look into all of them, because sooner or later you'll have to pick one).
Do you know of any graduate schools that are 1) doing creative, interesting work and 2) will take a wide variety of students into their program? Does anyone want to give a hyper-ambitious Midwest hacker a chance in their interactive design firm? Any discussion will be appreciated!
No idea here - its completely outside my frame of reference; I do know, though, that some of most interesting and technically challenging artwork I have -ever- seen (whether in technology, scale, or both), was at Burning Man. If you really want to be on the "cutting edge" (or the flaming edge, as the case may be!), you want to find the people involved; whether there are many in Nebraska I don't know - but I am sure there are at least a few Burners there.
There must be, but I have not found any that would take me. My university created their own "computer science" program that cuts out a lot of math required by grad schools (how an 18 year old is supposed to know that, I don't know), so CS programs haven't been too interested in me either.
I never went to a university, but to me a CS program without advanced math seems more like a "how to operate a computer" type coursework. Let me guess - plenty of "how to program in Java and/or .NET" type courses are available, but not much on lambda calculus?
Schools like MIT, NYU and Carnegie Mellon are doing tons of great stuff, but I have no chance of getting in (relatively low GPA, deficient in math courses, no publications to my name). At least thats why my advisors have told me.
It sounds like you aren't sure exactly "what you want to be when you grow up"; which is OK - I certainly didn't envision myself being where I am at today when I was young, but it is what it is.
You seem to see yourself working/creating/doing these "creative technologies", as you put it. With what you have noted, though, getting into the grad programs at other Unis doesn't sound possible. Have you thought about continuing to be an undergrad at one of those Unis (are your grades good enough for that?), and then applying yourself hard-core to the areas in which you lack knowledge (and writing the papers, publications, etc)? That might be one route, and you sound like you are young enough that you have plenty of time to do so (though money might be a concern)...
The school I'm at currently has nothing. And I literally mean nothing. No one at my school knows what Arduino is, or Processing, or even know about the wave of creative technologies going on right now. I work closely with the chairs of CS and physics at my university, and am also undertaking an independent study with a professor from the graphic design program explore the technologies from that perspective. But more often than not I find myself having to educate everyone around me about what I'm using, and I am left with not a lot of time to actually DO these crazy kinds of projects.
Perhaps more doing and less explaining might be in order?
I want to go to a bigger school like MIT so that I can be surrounded by like minded people and immersed in a creative atmosphere where I can be pushed to learn things far beyond what I am able to on my own. But in my experience, the schools I want to get into look past my actual work and experience in the subject matter and grill me on my GPA and the 'quality' of my degree from an academic perspective.
I understand your thinking, though at a different level; I wish I could be in your position right now. If I only had a benefactor who could pay my regular bills, I have the money to go back to school; but then again I am nearing 40 years of age, so I am not sure what good it would do beyond my own edification.
Do I really stand any sort of a chance getting into a bigger school like MIT based mostly on my enthusiasm/amibition and non-traditional work? I have the sense that I'm 'competing' with hordes of wealthy, extremely intelligent students who have been given many more opportunities than I have to get into such a school
Quit comparing yourself against others and their "talents", for starters. When you stop competing with others, and instead start competing with yourself, different opportunities can arise. Maybe you could start your own "hacker space"; maybe there are others out there, right now at your school, that feel the same way? Maybe there is a Nebraska corn farmer looking to automate his tractors who would employ you? Who knows!
What you may need to do - beyond bettering your skills in your deficient areas (math, and maybe general CS) - is develop a portfolio of projects. Ideally, these projects would address potentially novel solutions to existing problems, perhaps ones which are endemic to your current environment (Nebraska - and corn). What if you managed to make an Arduino-controlled mini-ethanol still? Or what if you could apply your CS skills toward the challenge of increasing corn yields? See what I am getting at?
Once you have this portfolio (plus your better skills and hopefully grades), then maybe you can shop it around to the schools you are interested in.
Worst case scenario - you'll have a good portfolio for your resume in order to get a "crappy full-time cubicle job" when you join the real world and pay a mortgage (and your student loans)...