Anna LaValle, University of Oulu

University Lecturer, University of Oulu

"Take the time to learn about yourself and what truly interests you. Once you've discovered your passions, work tirelessly to pursue them through ups and downs."

Anna LaValle

What have you studied and what influenced this choice back in the day?

In high school and college in Ukraine, I mainly focused on mathematics. During that time, together with my mom I co-authored math textbooks that became widely used in high schools across Russia and Ukraine, with millions of copies sold.

Years later, I pursued a Ph.D. in Computer Science at the University of Illinois. My research was in robotics. Why robotics? Because it combines mathematics with practical applications. It's all about making things move and work in the real world; it was like bringing math to life, and I found that fascinating!

What was your first job after graduation? How did you end up in your current position from there?

Once I finished my Ph.D. in Computer Science at the University of Illinois in 2008, I started working as a Teaching Professor in the same department. Around that time, I also had an amazing opportunity to join and work as a Research Scientist at Oculus VR from 2012 to 2014.

Working at Oculus VR in its earliest days was a significant moment in my career. I became part of the team that developed the original Oculus Rift headset, igniting the boom of economic consumer grade VR worldwide! During my time there, I made fundamental contributions to the head tracking methods and wrote core mathematical software used in the Oculus Rift. This experience allowed me to apply the knowledge from my academic journey to the real-world application of VR technology, bridging the mathematical foundations I learned in school with practical industry work.

After these experiences, my passion for teaching has only grown stronger. Now, as an educator, I am excited to share this knowledge with my students, hoping they'll find as much joy and inspiration in the world of technology as I have.

What is the best thing about your job?

I truly enjoy working with students. It's rewarding to me to teach and mentor students from diverse backgrounds and experiences. The best part is witnessing their growth and success. When I see my students excel, secure jobs, and flourish in their careers, it's a remarkable feeling. Knowing that I've played a part in their journey to success is the most fulfilling aspect of my work. It's a constant reminder of the positive impact education can have on individuals and society as a whole.

What have been the highlights and key lessons of your career?

One of the highlights of my career has been the opportunity to work at Oculus, contributing to the development of groundbreaking technology of the Oculus Rift headset. Additionally, teaching extremely large classes at the University of Illinois, with up to 800 students in one room, has been an incredible experience.

Throughout my journey, I've learned some valuable lessons. One of the most important things has been finding balance in my life, whether it's balancing career, family, personal ambitions, or maintaining a sense of community. I've also learned the significance of fostering cooperation and collaboration, both in my professional and personal life. These lessons have been instrumental in my growth and success.

What are your plans and goals for the future?

My future plans and goals are centered around making education accessible to people everywhere. I want to create educational materials and tools that can be used by anyone, no matter where they are in the world. This is especially important in areas where access to education is limited.

We're already expanding the courses we offer beyond the University of Oulu. For example, we're about to offer our VR and newly designed C++ courses at FiTech, a nationwide university in Finland that's open to everyone, not just current students. Additionally, I'm currently teaching our VR course to students at a top university in India, IIT Madras. And there are even more plans on the horizon to teach both nationally and internationally.

Ultimately, my dream is to provide free education that's open to everyone. I want to reach as many students worldwide as I can, helping them achieve their dreams through the power of learning.

What kind of person is suitable for your profession?

Being a great educator requires some key qualities.  First, there's passion – you must have a genuine enthusiasm for what you do, even when things get tough. Determination is just as important, although these qualities are necessary to excel in any job. Yet, what truly defines an educator is caring about people and society. A genuine concern for the well-being of the students and a broader sense of responsibility to contribute positively to society are essential qualities.

Your greetings for young people in high school deliberating their future career?

Take the time to learn about yourself and what truly interests you. Once you've discovered your passions, work tirelessly to pursue them through ups and downs. With determination, you can achieve your goals!

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