Emily Reyna, a NOVA grad, recently worked as a STEM Support Specialist for NOVA SySTEMic before moving on to her dream job as a Tester at Bethesda Softworks, a AAA game studio. As part of her farewell she gave us some insights about her experience as a Latina pursuing an in-demand tech career.
How did you first learn about NOVA?
Growing up NOVA was a topic at all our family gatherings. My grandmother and grandfather worked here, close to their retiring my mom began working here, and now both my sister and I work here. In addition to work, I had the opportunity to see so much success come from our students as I grew up so I knew I would go to NOVA before finishing my degree at another institution.
How were you first inspired in STEM?
My teacher at Battlefield High School, Mr. Bishop, encouraged me to go into the STEM field by taking me through the Project Lead the Way (PLTW) program and encouraging me to participate and assist in the SeaPerch robotics initiative. Towards the end of my high school experience, I had a meeting to discuss my future with Mr. Bishop and he encouraged me to go the computer science and graphic design route because I had an interest in becoming a video game designer.
You worked alongside the NOVA SySTEMic team. Describe your experience:
I have obtained a better grasp on all that goes into 3D modeling, laser cutting, and the importance of visualizing your subjects. In video games and out, visualizing what the object is you are working with and then being able to create it in 3D adds even more meaning to what you have made.
Having the opportunity to be amazed by the fabrication equipment, assist in the planning of curriculum for students, and seeing that curriculum put into action has been an extremely rewarding experience.
How has NOVA and NOVA SySTEMic equipped you in your career path?
NOVA and NOVA SySTEMic have opened my eyes to all the possibilities of the STEM world. From Disney using 3D modeling and fabrication to visualize their characters, to Marvel using Unity, a video game creation software, to add in backgrounds and special effects to their movies, it is amazing what technology can do. The STEM field is ever expanding and NOVA and NOVA SySTEMic have done an amazing job connecting their students to the STEM workforce and all that STEM can do for them.
How have you balanced work needs will pursuing your education?
Working at NOVA has been a significant help. The one saying I have heard over and over in every department, even those I have not worked closely with, is education comes first. If I need a day to focus on my schoolwork, NOVA is always able to accommodate and ensure I can get my work done.
What excites you about the gaming industry?
With the innovations in technology, I am extremely excited to see what comes next. In my research for my degree, I have found that doctors are using virtual reality tech to train and perform surgeries. It adds an additional layer of health safety by not requiring someone to be directly in the room and allows for even more accuracy than before. Robots, technology, and specifically video games are the future. While video games have a stigma of being dangerous, what the technology that goes into video games can do is astonishing and even life saving for some!
You recently secured a new job at Bethesda Softworks – Congratulations! How were you were able to secure the opportunity?
I have always said since I was in high school was, I am going to work for Bethesda Softworks, a AAA game studio. When searching for full-time positions, I saw they were looking for entry-level game testers and thought while I do not have the exact experience they want, I enjoy their games and the video game community so I would give it a shot. When they called back and were giving me the opportunity to work for them, I could not say no!
What are your ultimate career goals?
My ultimate career goal would be to get into a AAA company, Bethesda Softworks or otherwise, and become a game developer. What is nice about being a tester is I get to work with all the departments to share my findings on issues that could arise for other players. Hearing and seeing the experiences of those in the game field currently, game development suits what I see for myself in the future.
Are there any professors or mentors who you want to recognize along your journey?
Mr. Bishop encouraged me to get into the STEM field. While I had an interest in game design, I do not think I would have gone further into pursuing that field had I not taken his engineering classes and learning all that computer science and computer engineering has to offer.
I also want to recognize and thank Carolee Cawthon, the NOVA Manassas IT Manager, for sharing her knowledge, time, and care over the years while working for the college. I was always willing to learn, and she was willing to teach, and I appreciate my time with her and the NOVA IT team.
How does your life in the professional world differ from life as a NOVA student? What are the expectations?
One of the most rewarding parts about life in the professional setting is the ability to collaborate with industry professionals and learn from their experiences. In an educational setting you have a disconnect from your peers and have temporary teams with little emotional connection towards assisting each other’s goals. In the professional setting you are all working towards a common goal but also collaborate to assist in each other’s personal goals and always strive for the best for one another.
What is your experience as a woman/Latina in the tech fields? What further steps for equality would you like to see in general in technology fields?
The Latino community in the STEM field is very small and comes with many hurdles to finishing your degree. To start there is a strong language barrier between professor and student. While a professor intends to teach, often they do not take into a student’s background, upbringing, and how they were previously taught. Latino communities are very hands on, constant high-fives, hugs, words of encouragement, and even using food to encourage and collaborate amongst peers. Whether being homeschooled or in a public setting, many teachers supported their students by performing this action, but in a university setting, many professors are hands off, often providing a textbook definition.
Additionally, since a STEM degree is a very tough but financially worthwhile degree, much of the Latino community struggles to get by daily, let alone pay for schooling. Latino families send their children to school to get these IT and computer related degrees in hopes of them making a lot of money one day but soon realize it is near impossible to financially support their children’s dreams. The Latino community still has the mindset of keeping the women home or working in jobs that primarily focus on “womanly duties” as one might call them.
Being a Latina woman in STEM, I want to encourage and be an example for the Latino community. There are many programs and scholarships that encourage the Latina community. If there is something you set out for and dream about, NOVA and our NOVA SySTEMic team are always willing to help, much like they have done for me during my years of schooling and after.
Computer science is a difficult field to fully grasp and get in to. While some go into computer science with the intention of getting a lot of money, make sure you enjoy what you are doing, have fun along the way, and really grasp the information. Understanding is always the first step so ask for clarification as needed but look at some topics like a puzzle to solve.