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Desiree Makowski

Desiree Makowski

Student | Chico

“CSU Chico encouraged me to challenge myself and showed me that what I brought to the table was valuable.”

Excellent grades in high school and community college weren’t enough to stem the self-doubt Desiree Makowski felt as a first-generation student at CSU Chico. Thanks to dedicated faculty, she's now poised to make her mark on the video game industry.

At just 4 years old, Desiree Makowski was a champion video game player. Well, she thought so anyway.

The vivacious little girl would spend hours playing "Super Mario Bros. 3," "The Legend of Zelda," and "Sonic the Hedgehog" with her father, Jerry, laughing, screaming and celebrating her victories.  

A few years later, though, she'd learned the truth: She was, in fact, a horrible player.

"I was so awful at it," Makowski laughs. "But it was one of my favorite things to do with my dad. Video games have always been close to my heart. For me, it's about those memories that were created."

Now, as a computer animation and game development student with a minor in project management at California State University, Chico, Makowski is on the cusp of getting her bachelor's degree — and the chance to create her own games.  

"I want to be a part of that memory-making process for others," says the San Diego native.

"For me, it isn't so much about coming up with an idea for a game; it's about creating that experience. When I indirectly take part in cultivating these relationships for people, I feel like I am leaving my mark in the world."

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The 'Snowball' of Imposter Syndrome

After graduating high school with stellar grades, Makowski knew she wanted to go to college and study video game development. But the first-generation student struggled with the process of getting to a four-year university so she could start a career in the gaming industry.

"It was this feeling of just floating around," she remembers. Faculty at Palomar Community College pointed Makowski to resources that ultimately led her to CSU Chico's Computer Animation and Game Development (CAGD) program, the only one of its kind at the CSU.

So she moved 600 miles to Northern California to enroll at Chico.

By Fall 2015, Makowski had made it to a four-year university. She was enrolled in game development courses. Everything she'd wanted had come to together. So why did she feel she didn't belong?

"Imposter syndrome comes from a few different places and snowballs into one big fear," she explains. "I've always struggled with imposter syndrome — this feeling of not really fitting in."

For Makowski, that "snowball" was a combination of apprehensions: She was an older, first-generation transfer student; the only female in many of her game development courses; and the sole game development student in her project management business courses.

 

For me, it isn't so much about coming up with an idea for a game; it's about creating that experience. 

'CSU Chico Made Me Feel Like I Belonged'

Over time, though, that feeling started to shift.

"The classes I took at Chico and the people who taught them really made an impact on me. They pushed me and made me realize all that I was capable of," Makowski says. "They showed me that what I brought to the table was valuable.

"CSU Chico made me feel like I belonged. That was so meaningful to me."

One mentor in particular, Jennifer Underwood, a lecturer in the CAGD program, motivated Makowski both academically and personally.

"Jen was always there for me and taught me so much about 3D modeling," Makowski shares. "It was very challenging, but she never let me doubt myself. She would tell me that the only barrier to my passing that class was me."

Getting involved on campus eased many worries, too. Makowski currently holds positions in the Computer Graphics Club, Society of Women Engineering, Project Management Group, and is in the midst of launching a CAGD Industry Advisory Board.  

Her coursework has been a huge confidence-builder as well. "This program is built to cater the curriculum based on what you want to do after you graduate," she explains. "[All the students in the program] have a range of abilities and skillsets that Chico helps us build upon, which makes us so much more marketable after we graduate."

No longer does the 24-year-old feel like a fish out of water: "I now know where I am going and what I want to do with my life."


The Future of Game Development is Female

As Makowski prepares to graduate in December 2017, her mind is naturally turning to what comes next; she has no doubts that her time at the CSU has prepared her well for what lies ahead.

With a resume that includes prestigious internships — including a stint at Zynga Games, creator of "FarmVille" and "Words with Friends" — she feels confident and excited. "It is a very surreal feeling seeing a feature you worked on live in a game and watching other people play it," she says. "You're like, 'Hey, wait a minute. I created that part!'"

In a male-dominated industry — fewer than 25 percent of game developers are female, according to the International Game Developers Association — her goal is to stand out for her work ethic and style, not her gender.

"I take a lot of pride in my work," says Makowski. "I am being noticed and remembered despite the fact that I am a girl; I will not be defined by my gender."


Learn more about CSU Chico's Computer Animation Game Development program.

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