This lifelong learner started in Kenya, graduated from Yale, and then she discovered Virtual Reality with Udacity!
With Udacity’s Intersect 2018 conference fast approaching, everyone here is abuzz with this year’s theme: Lifelong Learning. So you can imagine our excitement when we spoke to Michelle Mboya, a student who described herself as a “chronic lifelong learner” within the first minutes of talking to her! Michelle is one of life’s “doers.” She is proactive in pursuing things that interest her, and relentless in learning new skills. As her experience will show you, this approach to learning opens up new opportunities and career paths, even when you’re still working out which path you want to take.
Michelle’s passion for learning started early. When she was at school in Kenya, she set herself the goal of pursuing a broad liberal arts education in the US. Today, she is a recent Yale graduate, with a double major in Economics and Film Studies. But her curiosity didn’t stop there. She is currently in the final stages of Udacity’s VR Developer Nanodegree program, and it’s only been 18 months since she graduated from college. If this sounds like a surprising trajectory, then you don’t know Michelle!
“I was feeling stuck in a career path at the startup I started working for. It may be a very millennial way to think, but I really didn’t want my life after college to involve letting go of that sense that you can create things, learn things, and go wherever the experience takes you.”
Michelle had this in mind when she first encountered VR. She was volunteering with a not-for-profit organization, working with a group of girls in Nairobi’s slums. The organization had provided a VR headset for the girls to try, and they spent hours enjoying different games. When the group asked Michelle whether their VR experience felt like it felt to be in America, she saw how the technology could be used to share very different stories and perspectives.
“I honestly knew nothing about VR. I just thought it sounded exciting, and that I might be able to use it in my non-profit world, or with my film-making. So I found Udacity, signed up for the VR program, and quickly fell in love with VR. I didn’t have a computer science background, but Udacity does a great job of making it feel possible to conquer the learning curve.”
Michelle is now in the final stages of completing her Nanodegree program, with just her final project to complete. She’s already planning to put her new programming skills to use as she starts directing her own film projects in VR.
Her pursuits don’t stop there. In her spare time, Michelle has spent the last two years writing a screenplay about her politician grandfather and his friendship with John F. Kennedy. Her concept for the plot even impressed the Ford Foundation, who awarded her financial support to research the story in Stanford University’s archives.
Michelle has also been writing Medium posts about her VR experience, and these have led to connections and work opportunities within the industry.
“I was offered a number of freelance opportunities because of my Medium articles, and I don’t even have many followers! One company contacted me after reading about one of my Udacity projects, asking if I could create something similar in VR for them! It’s amazing how quickly your skills are recognized by recruiters!”
Michelle plans to take on freelance VR projects to sustain her while she spends the next six months working on her screenplay. She is also creating two VR projects for a gallery in Nairobi, and is trying to create a VR experience where the user influences how a story proceeds.
“There’s not really a VR industry in Kenya yet, so my main outlet has been my own projects. I see that as an opportunity—I can really help shape how things develop. VR is a powerful tool for immersing people in others’ experiences, and there are so many stories I can tell with it here.”
Michelle is keen to keep learning, and hasn’t ruled out further studies in VR soon. For now, she’s excited to build on her new skills through her own projects.
“I want to spend the next six months just making stuff. Right now, there’s no reason not to take the risk, to be a part of innovation, and to make that innovation accessible to people outside the innovation bubble. I’m loving VR right now, and I want to give myself time to see what I can do.”
Thank you, Michelle, for sharing your story. We are certain that whatever you do next, your commitment to learning and taking action will enable you to make the most of every opportunity that comes your way. Your example has certainly inspired us to make Intersect 2018 an amazing experience. We’re excited to motivate as many students as possible with the message of your story: that success in today’s economy means embracing lifelong learning!