Jamie Sampson graduated from Springfield’s Kickapoo High School in 2017 and, a short while later, moved almost 400 miles north to Ames, Iowa for college.
At the time, she was interested in making animated films — something that still interests her.
“I was also looking into other things that I was interested in doing,” she recalled. “One of them was software engineering.”
Sampson will graduate this month with a bachelor’s degree in software engineering from the Iowa State University and move, in early June, to Austin, Texas. There, she will work for a company that makes video and computer games.
She will be involved, on the technical side, in a different kind of animation, interaction and storytelling at the company, Electronic Arts.
The confidence to pursue the degree and job — in what traditionally has been a male-dominated field, though that is changing — started in Project Lead The Way courses at Kickapoo. PLTW offers science, technology, engineering and math or STEM curriculum.
In the new role, Sampson will work with videogame designers to implement what they want to see in the game. She will be working on “The Sims 4” game, a life-simulation game that allows players to create and control people.
The company is also known for the Madden, FIFA, Star Wars Squadrons, and Apex Legends games.
She will also be working on an “undisclosed game” that she cannot discuss.
Sampson, who returned to Springfield in March 2020, has spent much of the past year learning online from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We moved me out of my apartment at the beginning of spring break,” she said. “And I have been home ever since.”
She won a coveted summer internship with Electronic Arts but had to complete it remotely, from Springfield, due to the pandemic.
“They were really great. It was their first time doing all-remote internships,” she said. “My team was really great.”
Sampson said the internship included two other female engineers out of a team of 20. In other internships, she was often the only female.
“There are a lot of things that I feel prevented the older generation from getting involved but with the younger generation, they’ve become more open-minded and are trying to change,” she said.
She said colleges and companies are establishing programs for women in engineering, coding and other technical fields.
“I think everyone is trying, it’s just not quite there yet,” she said.
At the end of April, Sampson returned to Ames, Iowa for a couple of days.
“I wanted to see the campus again,” she said. “I wanted to say hi to friends because we didn’t expect to not see each other for like over a year.”
She said finishing the final year of college remotely has been “slightly anticlimactic” and she has missed interacting with friends and professors in person.
“Everything is online,” she said. “It’s a lot more awkward to do social events through Zoom than it is to do in person.”
Sampson was one of the highest-performing academic students in Kickapoo’s Class of 2017. She was honored at the district’s 32nd annual ROSE or Recognition of Scholastic Excellence banquet.
Asked if she had advice for high school students interested in following in her footsteps, Sampson said to not let others silence or stop you.
“A lot of my female friends in engineering are like ‘I’m around people, some guys, and they keep trying to shut me up,'” she recalled. “And I’m like, ‘Well, I just keep talking.'”
She encouraged women interested in engineering, coding and other male-dominated fields not to let self-doubt creep in.
“There were a lot of times were I was like ‘Should I even be doing engineering?’ or ‘Is this really something I’d be good at?'” she said. “There are a lot of self-doubt obstacles that occur but it’s definitely something worth working through because it just makes you a better person on the other end of it.”
Claudette Riley is the education reporter for the News-Leader. Email news tips to [email protected]