SV to Industry: Experiences from Alumni of the Student Volunteers Program

Honei Semsar (left), Bektur Ryskeldiev (middle), and Asiya Asha (right)

The SIGGRAPH Student Volunteers program brings together students from multiple disciplines and backgrounds from all over the world to serve the annual SIGGRAPH conference. Honei Semsar, Bektur Ryskeldiev, and Asiya Asha are former student volunteers who have all shared incredible insight with us. In this interview, brought to you by the SIGGRAPH 2021 Student Volunteers program, you’ll learn how each of them started their early careers and how SIGGRAPH played a role.

SIGGRAPH: Where do you currently work, what is your background, and how would you describe your role?

Honei Semsar (HS): I currently work at DreamWorks Animation as a production supervisor for the FX department. My role consists of leading a team of around 21 artists. Essentially, I oversee — alongside the head of FX — the department delivery schedule and tasks. I manage the department schedule, track labor weeks, and coordinate day-to-day workflow. Often, I work with cross departments to meet scheduling, inventory, and deliverable needs to finish our wonderful films. I received my BFA in traditional animation at Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) in Laguna Beach, Calif. However, I have always loved and craved leadership role opportunities since a very young age. Working in production feels like a very natural and organic role for me. With my background in visual development and animation, I am actually more capable of leading teams of artists.

Bektur Ryskeldiev (BR): I am a senior research scientist at Mercari R4D. I am also a postdoctoral researcher at Digital Nature Group, University of Tsukuba. My background is in immersive media, remote collaboration, and human-computer interaction (HCI). At work, I research new ways we can interact with the media and make interactions more inclusive. I also invest a lot of time in education and outreach, finding collaboration opportunities and helping students with their careers. 

Asiya Asha (AA): Currently, I work as a full-stack developer in a software design and development studio in Los Angeles. My background is in computer animation and interactive media. While I was in the interactive media part of my program, we took a variety of visual coding classes. Through those classes, I realized then that coding was something I was really attracted to, so I decided to switch my program and pursue that direction full-time. My current role is to help bring ideas to life for our clients, ranging from newer startups to more established companies.

SIGGRAPH: How did you first hear about the SIGGRAPH conference?

HS: I first learned about SIGGRAPH in 2013 through a local drawing group that I attended monthly. I had always volunteered for different conferences and conventions, and I knew I wanted to get involved in the Student Volunteers program before I even knew what SIGGRAPH was about. Since then, I have volunteered almost every year in different capacities — from student volunteer to committee member.

BR: My first SIGGRAPH was in 2014 in Shenzhen. My lab at the time had a demo at one of the symposiums hosted at SIGGRAPH Asia, and I joined as one of the students to help with the setup.

AA: One of the professors in my college in New York was going to SIGGRAPH pretty regularly. He encouraged us to apply to the Student Volunteers program.

SIGGRAPH: When and why did you decide to volunteer?

HS: I genuinely and truly just love volunteering, particularly in our industry. The rush of helping coordinate and facilitate programs, events, and sessions is a joy for me. I take a lot of pride in being able to work “backstage” per say and to help create something wonderful. As I mentioned earlier, leadership roles are what I live for — the more challenging, the better. It is always so nice to be able to give back to my community.

BR: My first volunteering experience was the SIGGRAPH Asia 2015 Student Volunteers program in Kobe. I continued volunteering at both the Asia and North America SIGGRAPH conferences as a student volunteer or team leader until 2018. Also, I occupied different committee roles between 2016 and 2017. 

Why I decided to volunteer? I guess ever since my first SIGGRAPH I have been fascinated with the community that surrounds the conference. As a student, I found it really magical to work with so many smart, talented, and motivated people at SIGGRAPH. To this day, this conference is always something I look forward to every year.

AA: A couple of my classmates and I followed through and applied. I didn’t know much about it, but it sounded amazing and I wanted to meet other students around the world. I had also never been to Los Angeles (which was where SIGGRAPH was held in 2015). The following year I came back as a student volunteer again. I also later got involved in volunteering for the International Resources Committee. This committee helps to connect the global SIGGRAPH community, and organizes annual sessions on computer graphics (CG) in regions around the world, bringing together artists, researchers, and leaders. Having come from Russia originally, I’ve recently started to help organize the CG sessions in Russia.

SIGGRAPH: Story time! Share a memory from your time as a student volunteer that means a lot to you.

HS: I have so many! This will be hard. Back in 2015, I was selected as a team leader. We were a small group of leaders selected by the Student Volunteers program subcommittee to help manage student volunteers during the conference. That particular group of team leaders and subcommittee members formed a very close, tight-knit bond. It was simply incredible how amazing our friendship bloomed in that one week of the conference. We were from all different parts of the world, majors, and careers. I still have a very close relationship with them. That was the group that paved a way for my success. More importantly, they are my lifelong supporters, mentors, and true friends. I often think back to that experience and reminiscence.

BR: I have many fond memories to choose from. If I had to pick one, I would definitely choose my first S3 portfolio review. I was just starting my Ph.D. at the time; the review was one of the things that helped me find confidence to carry out my research. I also cherish my memories of working with my fellow student volunteers, especially my team leader partners at SIGGRAPH Asia.

AA: I’ve met some of my closest friends in the SIGGRAPH community. Each time I attend the conference, it gives me another opportunity to connect with them and learn about the industry. I like to find ways to inspire new friends and learn from the talented people who come to this conference.

SIGGRAPH: What role, if any, did SIGGRAPH play in kickstarting your career in the industry?

HS: SIGGRAPH played a vital role in helping me break into this industry. There is such a vast pool of knowledge, experience, and wealth of information that you get from attending just one conference. I never attended for the reason of simply finding a job; rather making connections and finding like-minded individuals who share my passion. I also just wanted to volunteer — it’s truly a great rush! Most of my mentors and close friends I have met through the volunteer program. 

Make sure to stay proactive and seek out opportunities, stay curious, and be respectful. SIGGRAPH opens a lot of doors. It was in my fourth year of volunteering that I signed to work as a PA on my first feature, all thanks to my mentor whom I met and worked for during one of my volunteer years.

BR: Volunteering for SIGGRAPH gave me an opportunity to meet people I wouldn’t have had a chance to meet otherwise. A chance to hear new ideas and form new connections with leading researchers and practitioners both in academia and industry. I would say SIGGRAPH most definitely had a direct influence on my career. I met my current lab when I was volunteering in the Emerging Technologies venue, and my current role also involves collaborations with some of the colleagues I met through SIGGRAPH.

AA: I feel like going to SIGGRAPH helped to expand my horizons. It inspired me to take a chance in switching industries.

SIGGRAPH: Would you recommend to students that they volunteer, and is there any advice you have regarding the experience?

HS: YES! Double yes! Do not create expectations for yourself. It may be overwhelming. Just start somewhere and that could simply be to volunteer and meet wonderful people from all walks of life. The best opportunities have presented themselves to me unplanned. I just loved being on the conference floor, no matter the task. The opportunities naturally presented themselves. If you volunteer, make sure your volunteer duties and responsibilities are at the forefront of your priority list as it is a privilege to be there.

BR: Yes, I would definitely recommend volunteering! My advice would be to not be afraid to reach out both to your fellow students and senior members. Volunteering for SIGGRAPH is a rare opportunity that may lead to your next big career milestone. We are here to help you achieve that.

AA: I would definitely recommend volunteering. Come with an open mind, explore and see where it might take you!


You heard it here first! Register for SIGGRAPH 2021 to meet this year’s student volunteers and network with professionals from across the globe.

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