Aeon Williams says her interests in cosplay and gaming fosters creativity, problem-solving, and attention to detail. Rodrigo Perez and John Louka talk about how riding motorcycles can cultivate a passion for mechanics, the drive to explore innovative technologies, and the exhilaration from completing a journey. Tymeeka Middleton mentions how baking requires precision and measurement but still allows for experimentation and creativity.
These four Modern Makers and others have seen how their hobbies have helped them develop transferable skills, tap into their problem-solving abilities, and build a rewarding and impactful career. Hobbies can play a crucial role in inspiring prospective young people to envision themselves in high-tech careers and explore robotics, automation, materials science, or mechatronics.
Modern Makers are individuals who embody Manufacturing USA’s mission to secure the future of U.S. manufacturing through innovation, education, and collaboration. The Manufacturing USA Network includes 17 manufacturing innovation institutes, each with a different technology niche. The institutes are part of an ecosystem of collaboration among their government sponsors (Department of Defense, Energy, or Commerce), research and academic institutions, and private-sector member companies. We hope you can see yourself alongside these creative powers.
Aeon Williams took her first computer programming class at age 11 with an interest in learning how to build video games. She had no idea it would eventually lead her to a career in photonics. She writes computer code for Spark Photonics that helps design photonic devices and circuits that are miniaturized onto the surface of a semiconductor chip.
Aeon enjoys crafting, especially cosplay, which involves taking a variety of materials to craft costumes and accessories to create characters. “I think the reason that I love crafting is also the reason that I love programming,” she says. “It's all kind of cut from the same cloth in my brain. Now in my career, I get to use the same approach to take a 2D design and then follow all the steps to make that design a reality.”
She says her gaming hobby has helped her develop better social skills for working with teams and customers. “You need to be able to talk to people and you need to do things that are not purely technical,” she says. “I think engaging in hobbies and socializing is super important to developing a career.”
When John Louka was based in Italy for an assignment, every weekend he would get on a motorcycle to explore different mountain routes. He compares the exhilaration of a curvy, high-adrenaline line with the anticipation of starting up a new automation line to see if they nailed the integration and implementation. Yes, he knows how nerdy that sounds.
Louka (he goes by his surname) is an Application Engineer at CESMII, the Smart Manufacturing Institute. He helps educate member companies on how to modernize their systems to fit into Industry 4.0 by providing roadmaps and information about solutions. He is also listening to what manufacturers say about their pain points and hurdles, which he shares with the CESMII technical team to help them develop the best possible solutions.
One of the many things Louka enjoys about his job is the variety of individuals he engages with at member companies – from machine operators on the factory floor to the CEO at a company headquarters. “When I talk with a CEO, what we’re talking about might not materialize for 6 months,” he said. “When you are on the floor, you can work with someone to put real value into the line within a week.”
Rodrigo Perez enjoys tinkering and modifying his motorcycle and building apps and other gadgets. He sees a connection between his hobbies and his job as Manufacturing Systems Integration Engineer at MxD, the digital manufacturing institute and National Center for Cybersecurity in Manufacturing. “I love that my job has a continuous learning curve for learning new skills,” Rodrigo says. “And I’m still finding time to build things on the side. I love learning new skills to apply on personal projects, it’s exciting.”
When not tinkering or working, Rodrigo enjoys playing soccer and participating in triathlons. He’s participated recreationally and competitively, and he says he adapts his skills for different events, much like he does on the factory floor. He also uses his team-building skills at MxD. “When you get to contribute to a team that has the same passion it makes a difference when working together,” he said. “It’s one of the best things about my job.”
Tymeeka Middleton loves to cook. She says her mom was quite the cook, but she did not like making desserts, so Ty filled that gap by learning how to bake brownies, cheese cake, macaroons, and more. “I like to bake because it’s a form of stress release, and it taps into my creative side,” she said. “I’m a rule follower until I am not, and that applies to how I approach baking. I’m not going to make a standard pound cake. I am going to try something different. I can never perfect anything, but I still want to try something different the next time.”
When she is not building decadent desserts, she develops curriculums for cyber security training for manufacturers. Ty is the Director of Education and Workforce Development at the Cyber Manufacturing Innovation Institute (CyManII) in San Antonio. Her ongoing cyber work includes the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), control systems for automation, and critical infrastructure for networks and manufacturing.
When Kim Lemay is not at work as an operations support specialist for BioFabUSA (the regenerative manufacturing innovation institute) or spending time with her family, she enjoys playing cards. She is an avid cribbage player; she loves how the game connects strategy and tactics, not only how to play her cards but also read her opponents and their patterns. She has played in a cribbage league for four years, and it brings out her competitive side.
In a way, Kim’s love for cribbage is like a snapshot of her career – she is a strategic thinker who is connecting the moves in the game to stay a step ahead. It’s no surprise that she has finished among the top four players in her cribbage league each year.
Adonis Summerville is a muscle car fanatic, which comes as no surprise once you have heard him talk about the hum and power of the machines he works with in his role as senior metalworking skills instructor at the Jane Addams Resource Corporation in Chicago. He is a partner for America’s Cutting Edge (ACE), a national training initiative that is part of IACMI-The Composites Institute. Adonis teaches people from underserved areas to be CNC machinists.
He likes muscle cars with V8s - he says they are just a big machine on aluminum blocks. “You can bore them within a certain tolerance and a certain torque.” His favorite is a ‘72 Chevelle, or maybe a Dodge Challenger Hellcat, or a Cobra Mustang. “The smart, logical person in me is getting a Camaro with a modified exhaust,” he said. “But as soon as the kids are out of the house, it’s a Corvette.”
Maria Araujo views much of life through discovery, connections, and possibilities - which helps explain her love for travel and finding time to ideate. Maria is the Director of Advanced Technology at Johnson & Johnson Service, Inc., where she designs technology architecture, so she is always looking for new ways to integrate sensors, IIOT (industrial internet of things), advanced materials, and robotics.
A perfect day for her includes time outside, speaking or networking and some kind of teamwork. She and her husband enjoy getting on their bikes, with their young children in tow, to ride San Antonio’s extensive system of bike trails. “It’s good bonding time, or I can get into my zone and listen to music, think, and not be on my phone or computer,” she said. “It’s a good time to reflect.” She says cycling also helps her brainstorm as she often finds herself thinking about how to solve a current challenge or about long-term strategies to push the boundaries of technology.
PowerAmerica Executive Director and Chief Technology Officer Victor Veliadis is a third degree black belt in Shotokan karate. He says one of the things that attracted him to karate was that he could be effective despite being small in stature (5’7”). He also found karate’s model appealing – hard work, commitment and technique repetition on the way to perfection. That discipline is a common thread in his life. He brings a similar approach to research and all his work.
“You don’t have to be big or strong; you can harness your body’s abilities to master techniques that have a devastating impact,” he said. “You practice the same technique until it is instinctive.”
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