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From the softball field to Amazon, Jessica West hit one final home run when she graduated from the Academy of Art

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Academy of Art University softball alum Jessica West. (Courtesy / ART U Athletics)

For the first summer in more than a decade, Jessica West was not playing softball, or working out with an eye on the next season. She’d spent a summer interning for BET as a junior at the Academy of Art, but even then, the three-time All-PAC West All-Academic selection found time for a two-week boot camp to get her arm back in shape.

The Portland, Oregon native was a two-time All-City selection in high school, and hit .312 over four years with the Urban Knights. Back in the Northwest for her final summer before graduation, the left-handed hitting outfielder was facing a new challenge in a familiar place. She was interning at Amazon.

West had discovered her passion for web design and user experience design only once she got to San Francisco for school, and after the summer internship in New York, had zeroed in on what she wanted to do: She wanted to solve problems. Over the course of her summer in Seattle, she had a feeling things were going well. She wouldn’t be playing softball in her fifth year in San Francisco, but instead, on the last day of her internship, she found out she’d be getting ready for a full-time gig with one of the biggest retail giants in the world.

“My goal, my freshman year, was that I wanted to still somehow be involved in the fashion world,” said West, who had harbored an interest in fashion design, but instead majored in Web Design and New Media. “I thought web design would be able to have more opportunities, digitally, at the end of the day, if I ever wanted to make that transition, but honestly, when I chose it, I had no idea. I thought, ‘This seems cool; let’s give it a shot.’”

Early in a prep softball career that saw her hit .506 over four years at Woodrow Wilson High School, West knew that she didn’t necessarily want softball to determine her future. She knew she didn’t want to play ball after college, but still wanted to continue her on-field career.

“We found out pretty fast that Cal State schools, with out-of-state tuition, they don’t have as much money, and they have so many girls in California that they can recruit, at their fingertips,” West said. “They can offer them a little less scholarship, because it evens out with in-state tuition.”

Private schools — which could offer academic financial aid, as well — became more of an option. Then, over the summer, West attended a showcase camp in Colorado, and the Urban Knights coaches were there. Soon, she attended an ART U camp in San Francisco, and was smitten.

“It was more than just a college,” West said.

Most majors at ART U are five-year programs, so West knew that she would potentially be spending a year at the school after her softball career was done. That was fine by her.

“My dad thought, ‘Let’s tour web design and new media. That’s really up-and-coming now.’ We toured that, as well as architecture,” West said. “I just fell in love with the cool things that the web design department was doing, like digital graphic design work. It seemed really cool, and it seemed like there would be a lot of opportunities when I graduated.”

Over her first two years, she interned for the Athlete Network, an online community connecting student-athletes and athletic departments around the country. She also worked as a brand ambassador for MKTG, a global lifestyle marketing agency.

She hit .353 over her junior and senior seasons, but the team’s success was a mixed bag. Beyond that, she and her classmates endured a coaching change her freshman year.  In 2014, the team went 16-34. The Urban Knights posted their first — and only — winning record during West’s tenure when she was a sophomore in 2015, going 28-26. The next year, as she readied to head to New York, ART U went 17-34-1.

There were times when West and the other team leaders had to stop practice and regroup, and it was in those instances where West learned the most about working with a team, “trying to get everyone back on the same page, like, ‘Let’s fix this now, instead of us running 500 poles, and then figuring it out.’”

While interning with BET, she led designs and prototype for the channel’s new digital initiative, on both desktop and mobile devices. When she returned from the experience, she knew that visual graphics weren’t where her passion was.

“I knew I wanted to do more user experience, and actually have customer problems to solve, or be able to make design decisions based on customer feedback, or things they would want, and would be helpful to them,” she said.

Over the next academic year, she worked on her digital media midpoint online portfolio. It featured some of her work with BET, and prototypes for an application, website and wearable FitBit-like piece of technology that would assist with travel organization (she experienced plenty of travel for softball, after all), keeping track of boarding passes, passports and identification.

She designed an app for finding the next bus coming at the City’s various stops, including all the visuals and iconography. To hear her describe that online portfolio, though, it would seem as though it was very much a rough draft.

“They were my first kind of half of my experience, and projects in that,” she said. “I would say the one now is a little more mature. It was a good starting-out point.”

The spring of her senior year, she sent out between 60 and 100 internship applications for her final summer. That rough draft portfolio, her experience with softball, as well as her penchant for problem solving, was what attracted the attention of Amazon.

“It was pretty overwhelming, because with school, softball and all the interview process, you kind of lose track with where you’ve applied and where you haven’t,” she said. “I was a little shocked when I got that email, saying that they wanted to interview me for the internship. I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I forgot I even applied.’ I had so much going on.”

Two weeks after her interview, she found out she would be heading back home to the Northwest, to work with one of the largest corporations in the world.

“One thing that I absolutely loved, was how much of UX design aspects were involved in this internship, and being able to make really cool changes that could be better for users at the end of the day,” she said.

The last day of her internship, she was offered an official position.

With fewer classes and no softball in her final year, West picked up two jobs to help make ends meet. She finished her final portfolio, which included a prototype design for a device she called the Dot: Like the Tile app, but smaller — a sticky, dime-sized dot that could be affixed to keys, a remote, a phone or a favorite piece of jewelry.

“I wanted my portfolio to be so good I didn’t have to touch it again,” she said.

She used the December portfolio review, which is a showcase for students looking for internships, as a networking opportunity.

“I actually met some great people through that, that I’ve been able to stay in contact with, for future opportunities, which was awesome,” West said. “It gave me an opportunity to take some more time and travel a little bit, which I haven’t normally been able to.”

She went back to New York, and to Chicago to visit friends. She visited her boyfriend in Spain. Then, she started with Amazon on Feb. 5, after hitting her final home run.

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