Editor’s Note: This story is part of a series of feature stories that highlight diversity on Florida Poly’s campus and celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.
Helping others has always been a priority for Florida Polytechnic University student Esme Vázquez. It’s a lesson she learned from the most important woman in her life: her mother.
“I grew up watching my mom, a very strong Latina with a deep sense of empathy,” said Vázquez, from Orlando, Florida. “She’s always been dedicated to helping others in need.”
That vivid example of generosity inspired Vázquez to attend Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a goal of eventually earning a master’s and doctorate. However, her desire to help others was clashing with her desire to be creative.
“I struggled understanding what I wanted to do with myself. I knew I wanted to help people, but not by ignoring myself and my true passion,” she said.
That true passion, Vázquez said, is game design and development. “I love video games. Some of my earliest memories are of me playing video games and exploring other worlds.”
While trying to learn all she could to pursue her true calling, Vázquez found work managing websites from the front end to the back end. That’s when she was connected to a Florida Poly student who was studying to become a game developer. After a brief conversation with her, Vázquez knew what her next step would be and found the courage to tell her parents that she was going back to school. But, this time, it would be for a completely different goal.
“I knew they would support me, but I always feel the pressure of making them proud,” said Vázquez, now a junior majoring in computer science.
Her parents, both of Puerto Rican descent, met in New York and later moved to Florida to follow job opportunities in information technology. The transition to living in Florida was hard for them, as they moved away from their families. Not too long after they relocated, her father was diagnosed with pancreatitis.
“My dad got very sick and almost passed away when I was very young. Things were really hard,” said Vázquez. “I’m so aware of the sacrifices my parents have made to give me and my siblings the life we have.”
With those sacrifices fresh in her mind, Vázquez began her journey at Florida Poly in the spring of 2017, determined to become a game developer. There have been bumps along the road, she said, but she’s still going strong.
“I came to Florida Poly knowing very little about anything related to computers. I wasn’t primed for a STEM profession. But whatever it takes to live my passion, I’m going to do it.”