Major career pivot for this student from northeast Vancouver

When Katie Lowen, a master’s candidate at University of Northeast Vancouverapplied for the computer science program, she didn’t have a clear idea of ​​what this career choice would entail.

“I walked into this program never seeing a line of code, completely blind,” she says. “I don’t know what prompted me to apply.”

However, Lowen, 29, is no stranger to unconventional career moves and ambitious ventures. In high school, she traded a future in professional gymnastics for a chance to play basketball and was able to become good enough in three years to earn a basketball scholarship to Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. . While finishing her undergraduate degree in finance, Lowen decided to try her hand at modern dance and enrolled in a professional dance program after training with tutors for a year.

Lowen says that being from a small town in southern Alberta, she may have been naïve about the scope of what she was undertaking, but it helped her achieve her dreams.

“What I learned from gymnastics, but also from sport in general,” she says, “ [is] that I’m someone who can put my head down, practice and learn. I know how to train my brain to make this change.

Although it’s terrifying and incredibly stressful, Lowen says she knows she’ll eventually master whatever she wants to learn.

“I’ve been very lucky to meet people who are excited to have someone new on the scene,” she says.

While in dance school, Lowen was able to get an apprenticeship with Radical System Art dance company that fuses dance, theater and martial arts in its shows. She first replaced another dancer in an existing show and later became a full-time member of the troupe, performing and touring across Canada, the United States and Europe as well as Israel.

Another successful but unusual creative venture that Lowen was involved in was an underground dance space in an old tractor-trailer in Vancouver called boom box. Lowen and his two best friends found the old tractor-trailer, which needed an “insane” amount of work, on Craigslist available for rent. They converted it into a space for dance practices and performances.

“We were all young enough and crazy enough to say ‘Yes, it’s possible,'” Lowen says.

The 53ft long trailer had low seating capacity (up to 35 people), lacked electricity (they used a generator) and had basic sound and lighting systems. Despite the limitations of the site, Boombox subsequently hosted over 50 emerging and established artists from different disciplines exhibiting in the space and a youth residency.

A person in a red jumpsuit sits on the sidewalk in the sun.
Katie Lowen, modern dance artist and master’s candidate at Northeastern University Vancouver. Photo by Kezia Nathe/Courtesy Katie Lowen

“It was so immersive just because of the nature of the space,” says Lowen. “It was really a space where artists could come in and start something new from the very beginning, because it has to be built into that space for viewing, because it’s so specific.”

Lowen decided to return to school in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic closed theaters and performances. She wanted to learn technical skills by taking advantage of interdisciplinary grants available in Canada and bring technology to Boombox and the dance scene.

She found Northeastern University Vancouver through a Google search and applied on a whim, not thinking she would get in. In September 2020, she started her career in IT.

When the shows resumed, Lowen tried to combine studying and rehearsing for the dance company, but soon realized that it wouldn’t work for her.

“It’s a team effort. And it’s very physical with a lot of turns and a lot of closeness, and very fast,” she says. “So for that, you can’t miss rehearsals so everyone is safe on stage.”

Doing five-hour rehearsals and memorizing a lot of choreography was difficult because her brain was already overloaded with new information she was learning in school, Lowen says.

“There’s something amazing about depending on your body’s health and skills as a source of income,” says Lowen. “But there’s also something that’s really scary about it, especially as you get older, because you start to feel the weight of it getting heavier and also you hurt yourself a lot more.”

Although she believed she could still dance for another five years, she was also already so invested in the master’s program that she chose to quit dancing. In July 2021, Lowen performed for the last time.

Lowen is among the first cohort of students pursuing a Align master of science in computer science degree at the Northeastern campus in Vancouver. Since it began, the school has moved to a “glorious” new campus in a unique, newly constructed Deloitte Summit tower downtown.

“It’s really exciting to watch the school itself and the community grow,” Lowen says, noting that his cohort is very close.

She says the computer program was a lot of work.

“I really invested my whole being in making sure I put in as much as I wanted to get out of it,” says Lowen.

The first couple of people in his cohort graduated in the spring of 2022. Lowen hopes to follow in their footsteps and graduate in May 2023.

Using Northeastern’s experiential learning model, Lowen was able to complete a four-month internship at Unity Software Inc.. This internship led her to land a full-time job as a data developer at Unity’s subsidiary, Ziva Dynamics—a Vancouver-based software company that specializes in real-time human simulation and virtual character creation for film, television, retail experiences and interactive environments.

“It’s actually really cool because it’s this point where arts and technology intersect in a totally different way than I thought,” Lowen says. “It’s a great front door.”

She says she’s done with “midlife crisis-related career changes.”

“I think what I take away the most is that every experience I’ve had so far, even though they seem so different, has somehow come together,” Lowen says. “There’s really no experience wasted that way.”

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