JKCF Semifinalist Sees NOVA as Path to Limitless Potential

April 24, 2023

Shannon Left uses her eye for the arts to bring a fresh perspective to her many technical pursuits. She has accomplished much during her time at NOVA and will graduate in May with an associate of applied science degree and three career studies certificates. She is a NASA “NCAS” Scholar and member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. Her determination and excellence in the classroom has captured the attention of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, where she is currently a semifinalist to receive their prestigious undergraduate transfer scholarship.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
As a child, poetry and the arts came naturally to me. My high school years were spent at the Kirov Academy of Ballet, a performing arts boarding school in D.C. Upon graduation, I relocated to Los Angeles to learn special effects and prop-making. I quickly made my way through Hollywood’s film and television industry, working on major productions as a shopper, set decorator, prop master and eventually an art director. I managed the entire art department, which included overseeing budgetary decisions and supplying creative direction to television, film and commercial productions. I even produced a nationally televised game show with a gold medalist Olympian as the host!

While living in Los Angeles, I made a series of life-changing decisions, the result of which led me back home to Virginia. It was one thing to work in Hollywood to build fiction-fantasies for a living, but that wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to be a part of a generation that builds a future based in reality.

What are you studying at NOVA? How does it feel to graduate?
I am currently studying information technology on the Loudoun Campus. I value my education more than ever and genuinely love learning. NOVA has provided a path to reach a limitless potential and expand my skillset. I strive to defy categorization, continue to push beyond my perceived limitations, and live by the motto, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Never let your age, race, gender, finances or fear hold you back. Trailblazing has become a prerequisite in 2023 and nothing can stop us when we believe in ourselves!

Tell us about your experience at NOVA, i.e., professors you’ve liked and friends you’ve met.
I’ve had so many great professors at NOVA. Professor Zach Lawrence, my cloud, network security and Linux professor I won’t soon forget. He encouraged real thought provocation and exploration. Abid Mahmood is not just an amazing professor, but also an incredible person who went above and beyond to help us succeed in learning the AWS cloud curriculum and created an enjoyable, collaborative environment. Professor John McNally is the most engaging professor; lectures do not get any better. I had the pleasure of having him for software design and would take him for everything else if possible!

Professor Ryan Ammons challenged me to really learn database. His classes are the furthest from the cram-pass-forget model. Professors Nasser Maksoud, Jamal Said and Muhammad Iftikhar were all awesome for I.T. courses. They offer so many resources that assisted me in looking beyond college and planning for my profession. Professor Shahrokh Ahmadi explained things in easily understood terms. He was the best math teacher I have ever had! Professor Judson Lewis “emceed” my Virtual Communications course. We all felt like the co-hosts of a totally awesome radio show and were entertained the entire time.  

Much gratitude for making my time at NOVA such a memorable and successful journey.

How does it feel to be a Jack Kent Cooke semifinalist?
The reward and acknowledgement of the Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship semifinalist announcement really sent me over the moon! It was a huge surprise and a huge honor. To receive that acknowledgement, and especially to be one of only thirteen Northern Virginia Community College students to represent the school and the area, is something that has given me and my family a lot of pride! We couldn’t be happier – it’s truly a great honor.

What would you tell a student coming to NOVA?
In my experience, the more you engage and interface with something, the more you get in return. Utilizing resources offered by NOVA, communicating with the professors and continuously working with academic advisors to fine-tune my program and reach my goals has been well worth the time. Also, never let a challenge or setback get the best of you.

Where do you see yourself after NOVA or what career pursuits are you exploring?
I will graduate NOVA this spring, having made the president’s list every semester, having acquired an associate of applied science degree, three I.T. career studies certificates including in cloud computing, network administration and I.T. technical support, as well as three professional I.T. certifications including CompTIA Network+, Security+ and AWS Cloud Practitioner by utilizing the ACE credentials voucher program.  

With the assistance of my academic advisors and coaches (shout out to Katie Brown and Destiny Spencer-Harris) my original program, an A.A.S was seamlessly shifted to a transfer B.A.S program, which puts me at George Mason University in the fall. I already have my sights set on a master’s in computational sciences. My career goals include contributions to the fields of automation and tech integration, artificial neural intelligence, robotics architecture and engineering cloud architecture.

Topics: featured article, scholarship and research, student success