NOVA Graduate Spotlight – Hispanic Heritage

Alec Vaca is a NOVA graduate who received an A.A.S. in Automotive from NOVA and later pursued a degree in HVAC before switching to an A.A.S. in Engineering Technology. He interned for Micron and worked there for 3 years. Afterward he interned for Digital Realty and is now employed full-time as an IT Manager. We caught up with him at the end of Hispanic Heritage month to ask about his experiences getting to where he is now and how NOVA helped him achieve his goals:

How did you first learn about NOVA?
I heard about NOVA during my Junior (11th) year in High School. Much of what I knew originally came from rumors of being a lesser-university experience for a much lower cost.

How were you first inspired in STEM?
My fascination with STEM originated also in my Junior year in High School when I took an automotive basics class and following my senior year in High School with a trade class for small engines. I thoroughly enjoyed understanding each component’s purpose in the overall picture of manipulating energy for a specific task.

Since joining NOVA, describe your experiences?
I have learned from industry experts who teach students, such as myself, with a passion to equip the future labor force. My experiences made in each lab have been stelar thanks to NOVA cultivating a healthy culture empowering my professors to teach to their best abilities.

How has NOVA equipped you in your career path?
NOVA has equipped me through many opportunities to advance my career, ranging from a plethora of degree-specific scholarships to unique Internship paths with global companies such as Micron Technology and Digital Realty.

How have you balanced work needs while pursuing your education?
Balancing a work life while pursuing an education is admittedly my greatest weakness. I have learned early on that it is possible but sacrifice to some “me” time is required. An effective balance usually means I cut down on recreation on my down time to finish deadlines from both work and school. I have been blessed to have considerate managers and professors, so that also is a huge weight off my shoulders!

What excites you about the technology industry?
The fact that we are in a unique time in the world where competition for the “latest & greatest” is at its peak.

You recently started a new job, Congratulations! Describe how you were able to secure the opportunity?
Thanks! I put into practice my persistence in finding opportunities that would benefit me and my goals. My first step was focusing more on my classes I was taking and to see what would suit my future aspirations in the workforce. Following this I took advantage of the Career Learning Readiness Institute (CLRI) training modules, offered by NOVA, for seeking employment and had the tremendous opportunity to tour STACK Infrastructure, which sealed the deal on which industry I would love to grow into. Finally, after discussing my aspirations to my professors, I was made aware of an opportunity to intern at a leading Data Center in Loudoun, which resulted in said company knowing who I was as an individual and vice versa.

What are your ultimate career goals?
I believe my ultimate career goal would be, as my father says, “Bloom where you’re planted”.

Are there any professors or mentors who you want to recognize along your journey?
My top three professors/mentors I have been fortunate to interact with would be Reginald Bennett for his passion to teach, Laura Garcia for her counseling and Amir Mehmood for his care for us the students.

What have you most enjoyed about your time at NOVA?
My best moments at NOVA have been struggling with other students to understand the material we must learn and the relationships that have sprouted from our conflicts. Nothing says comradery like a class of students working together to get to the next part of the lab!

How does your life in the professional world differ from life as a NOVA student? What are the expectations?
Learning a topic at NOVA, with physical labs included, is different from learning in the workforce. My classes give me a great foundational understanding of STEM concepts and the ability to test controlled sections of an area being explored. In the workplace, I can develop my skills I have learned, usually without control found in labs I have done at NOVA. As far as expectations go, at work I am expected to do my best and if I do not, then my team suffers the most. In my classes, I am expected to learn and if I fail to, then I alone suffer the most.

What would you say to current NOVA IET students who would like to follow your example? What should they do and what should they expect?
What worked for me was building relationships with my professors and classmates so I could learn more about who I was as a person and where I wanted to end up at. I would not be where I am today without pushing myself out of my comfort zone to look for opportunities, to which many professors are eager to help those seeking.

Is there anything else you want to share?
My parents often say a variation of “Cherish the good times and learn in the hard times”, which I find fitting.