Alumni Snapshot: Abril Vela
BSI '18 (Social Media)
Educational Consultant and Entrepreneur
I'm currently adjusting to life as a full-time educational consultant and entrepreneur. Officially, I am a co-founder and principal consultant at CS for Success. We are a small consulting firm focused on enabling high school students to participate in equitable, inclusive and high-quality computer science experiences. Our goal is to ensure all students have the opportunity to pursue computer science (CS) coursework, partake in hands-on skills training and understand the real-world applications of their classroom experiences.
I have focused my career on expanding access to K-12 computer science education through the Computer Science for All movement and advocating for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within the tech sector. CS for Success is the culmination of a decade worth of my experiences (both personal and professional) doing this work, and the understanding that computer science offers an opportunity for students, their families and communities to achieve multifaceted success through untraditional means.
Advice for getting into the information field
It may seem like common advice, but I really do believe that it's some of the best advice that I've received: find another person who likes to do what you do.
I've always felt like the odd one out; I've never quite fit in with the "techies," and I'm not really a teacher, but I'm a little bit of both. Now, I'm a consultant trying to be a little bit of everything. But I love what I do, and I love that I get to move between all of these spaces and meet so many amazing people. What you'll find is that there is always at least one other person who likes the things you like, and chances are that person knows someone else who likes those things, and so on. That's how my career started. I had no idea how to get a job doing what I enjoyed, it seemed impossible, so I just kept asking the people around me who enjoyed the things I did how they got there, and more times than not, they were willing to help. Build your community, and they'll build you up.
Most valuable UMSI experience
While at UMSI, I founded the U-M Design for America (DFA) studio. Although I could only spend two years with the studio, this time taught me so much about leadership, collaboration, community building, empathy and the importance of humility. While a DFA studio ultimately serves the purpose of delivering a design project for a community client, I am confident that the experience of launching this studio was a major contributor to my development as a leader before I left UMSI. Leading a team of students through a design process expected to engage community members meant that I was responsible for my peers' learning experience and the well-being of all community members involved. Taking the time to engage stakeholders who were the experts in community management at UMSI to learn how to maneuver this engagement process helped me build my current company and better focus my attention on my contributions within community spaces.
Best UMSI memory
When I introduced myself to Dr. Barry Fishman, I was overwhelmed with excitement by his interests and current research areas. I couldn't wait to share my ideas on revamping CS education and how I wanted to reshape the postsecondary pipeline (I still do). I'm not someone who does their best learning in the classroom, which can undoubtedly rub some folks the wrong way. But instead of brushing my ideas off, Dr. Fishman offered me an independent study to map out what I viewed as an information access problem during the postsecondary transition period for students. Having time to dedicate solely to my interests and access to a professor who could commit time to assist me through my work was a huge confidence booster. It was the confidence boost I needed to accept a job not even two years later managing Early College Credit computer science implementation for all Chicago Public Schools (who would've thought). I'm grateful for the relationship I was able to form with Dr. Fishman while I was at UMSI and his continued guidance and mentorship.
UMSI has made me a better problem solver. At its core, my current job is about working with people to develop solutions. While these solutions can range from policy to practice, from teacher credentialing to student training, each can be approached using the same set of tools. UMSI provided me with these tools—a human-centered design thinking process—and the skills to use them. And yes, I do apply my social media skills regularly; I have developed social media strategies for my current company and my former team. Understanding the process of how to identify how users engage with your brand online has come in handy!
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