With ACA, I’m Full STEAM Ahead

Most people think of art and design as being totally separate from science and math. However, for former ACA World Championship competitor and life-long New Yorker Abigail Zhong, they harmonize quite well. After graduating from Brooklyn Technical High School, Abigail has gone on to study Physics and Information Science at Cornell University.

Find out how Abigail is using her Adobe Certified Associate certification to push herself full steam ahead into the world of math and science.

Certiport: Abigail, it’s been so long since we’ve been able to connect with you. Thanks for making the time to chat with us!

Abigail: Absolutely! The ACA World Championship was such an amazing experience, and I’m glad I get to talk a little bit more about what I’ve been up to since I competed.

Certiport: Great! Before we dive into what you’re up to these days, tell us how you initially got involved in certification.

Abigail: Now for that, I’ll have to go back a few years. I’ve been using Photoshop since I was in middle school, but I really started getting my fingers in different pots during high school. When I entered Brooklyn Technical High School, I was faced with the decision of choosing a major. Yes, my high school required majors, just like college. I chose Media Communications because at that point, I wanted to be a graphic designer.

The Media Communications major consisted of many different fields: graphic design, photography, video production, 3D animation, print design, and product design. Through my major in high school, I became familiar with a plethora of different software programs from Adobe and Autodesk. We used Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator for designing, Adobe Premiere Pro for video editing, Autodesk Inventor for mechanical modeling, and Autodesk Maya for 3D modeling and animation.

I was able to be certified in the software I used, because my school was generous enough to sponsor us to take the certification exams. Not to mention our school required us to pass!

Certiport: So many amazing opportunities while you were still so young! And that got you involved in the ACA World Championship?

Abigail Zhong at ACA US National Championship

I also enjoyed looking at everyone’s designs before the award ceremony. Even though we were given the same project guidelines and stock images, the results were very creative, diverse, and unique; you could tell all the designers had their own personal flair.

Certiport: You were so fun to have at the event. It’s been a few years since 2015 though. Tell us a little bit about what you’re up to now.

Abigail: I am currently a rising senior at Cornell University in the College of Arts and Sciences. It’s the perfect place for me to study, because I am passionate about both art and science! I major in Physics and minor in Information Science with a concentration in User Experience and User Interface.

Certiport: How awesome! Most people who earn ACA certifications don’t think it’ll help you in the science and IT field. Was it tough to make the switch?

Abigail: I think it was a natural transition. Since I went to an engineering high school, I always heard people pushing for more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) but I really think the focus should be on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math). I believe there is so much intersection between these fields in the real world because the technical sectors really rely on creativity and visionary ideas.

That’s why the transition from a Media Communications major in high school to a Physics major in college wasn’t a big deal for me, even though it was a big change to others. Physics was just another form of art to me, because the natural laws are so elegant, and the understanding of physics allows me to see the world in a new light. Similarly, there is a certain science to design: different colors evoke different emotions and design features can be used to make a product more user friendly.

Abigail Zhong and friends

My certifications have even assisted me during physics research, because I gained a lot of transferable skills. Last summer, I did collider accelerator research at Brookhaven National Laboratory. To produce magnet simulations, I had to learn two completely new software programs I had never used before. However, I was able to figure them out within a few days because I could relate them to programs I already knew, like Autodesk Inventor.

Certiport: Very well said. Art and science really do intersect so often. Have you still been able to pursue design opportunities, in addition to your physics research?

Abigail: This summer, I decided to apply for a Web Design & Development position in my school’s IT sector, instead of doing physics research like my previous year.  The designer interviewing me expressed surprise that a physics major was applying for the job. However, my projects in web development and my certifications in Adobe software were more than enough to prove I am experienced in web design. Needless to say, I got the position.

Certiport: Good for you. Your ACA certification has really helped you bridge the gap between science and design. What field do you think you’ll pursue after college?

Abigail: Currently, I am at a difficult crossroads and I still need to reflect on what path to take after graduation. I came into college confident that I would go the physics PhD route, but now I am looking at other options.

I recently took up the Information Science minor because I just couldn’t escape my love for design! I thought about ways that I could apply my graphic design skills, and I landed on user experience (UX) and web development. I took a few web design and programming classes and since then, I was hooked! UX and web development is a great way for me to use both my analytical skills from physics and my creativity from graphic design.

Right now, I am leaning toward pursuing a Master’s in Information Science or going straight into the UX industry. In the future, I hope to get back into physics academia because I love both science and design.

Certiport: Based on your track record, I’m sure you’ll be able to do whatever you put your mind to. Abigail, thank you so much for sharing your story. To end, we always like to ask our past competitors what advice they would give to younger students. Any pearls of wisdom?

Abigail: My biggest piece of advice is to learn all you can. Having a certification-level of knowledge has been helpful for me during my design career. Once you learn something, you never really forget it, and it’s great to have many tools in your toolbox. Give yourself all the tools available to prepare yourself for success in whatever field you pursue after high school and college.

Push your students full STEAM ahead! Learn more about ACA certification at www.certiport.com/aca.