On a campus of more than 30,000 students, Valentina Alayon’s name and image pops up a little more than one might expect. But in addition to being a stellar student academically, Alayon was also involved with a variety of clubs, projects and other activities on campus which put her front and center. From being a member of both the Society of Automotive Engineers' Baja SAE and Solar Decathlon 2017 teams, to taking on leadership roles in the college’s American Society of Mechanical Engineers student chapter and Engineering Ambassador Program, Alayon took advantage of every opportunity that came her way – and created many of her own.
How did the experience of Senior Design help prepare you for your career?
Senior Design was a perfect way to prepare for my career. Upon graduating from UNLV, I took a position working with the mechanical engineers' society creating new initiatives and engaging with our member base. My experience developing a business plan and timeline during senior design prepared me for the day-to-day activities of working within this marketing team. Also, the presentation skills that I practiced during the two semesters of senior design came in extremely handy as about 70 percent of my position consists of public speaking and presentations.
What are some takeaways from UNLV which have positively affected you in your career?
I think that during my time at UNLV I learned how to advocate for myself and gained the confidence to pursue projects I was interested in. When you enter the workforce, it can seem daunting to speak up or ask for more responsibility. UNLV gave me the confidence to voice my opinion and to really pursue initiatives, even those outside my job duties, that I felt I could contribute to.
What brought you to your career? Was it a class you took that introduced you to it, an internship or a job you tried?
I would have never found my way to the society if it hadn't been for UNLV hosting the first-ever E-Fest West event. After being a part of the organizing team and serving as the primary event emcee, the society's national office offered me a newly created position intended for student and early career outreach. During my time at UNLV, I knew that I didn't want to follow a traditional career path but if it hadn't been for my involvement with the student chapter and this event, I never would have known that this was even an option for me.
What is one tip you would give to other engineering/computer science students to enjoy their experience at UNLV too??
My one tip to engineering/computer science students would be to diversify their classes and extracurricular involvement. It makes a lot of sense that an engineering student would want to focus on engineering all day, but giving yourself the opportunity to explore other classes, work on interdisciplinary projects and engage with different kinds of people is so important. Not only will this prepare you for the real world but also engaging with a more diverse group will make you a better engineer as they might approach something in a way you might have never considered.
Do you have any advice for students struggling to find jobs or deciding on an engineering major?
Treat every single class, internship, and job as a learning experience. College is all about discovering your strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes, and every experience you have will clarify these. When it comes down to it, your employer is going to care a lot more about whether you can proactively find the answer than if you know it off the top of your head. Also, make sure you have a varied web of connections. Networking is a huge part of success whether it's to find a job or a mentor. Connect with people of varied backgrounds, companies, and experiences, it'll make you a way more well-rounded and prepared professional.
Is there anything else you would like to share with current students?
You've made an amazing decision by choosing UNLV as the place to get your degree. You're getting once-in-a-lifetime connections and opportunities — make the best of them — but at the end of the day, as cheesy as it sounds, have fun.