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NC native converts 2 passions into job at Smithsonian

December 8, 2018

RED SPRINGS, N.C. (AP) — Not many people can say they work at their dream job.

Ashley Deese, a 29-year-old Red Springs native, found hers at the Smithsonian Science Education Center and recently made the Forbes eighth annual “30 Under 30” list for her work for the center.

“Getting the Forbes recognition is very validating and something I’ve never dreamed of happening to me because I am from a very small, poor area,” Deese said. “This isn’t a common theme for people.”

The list features 600 young innovators, entrepreneurs and risk-takers who are putting a new twist on what it means to be a leader for the next generation. The Forbes class of 2019 “30 Under 30” list includes 30 honorees for each of the 20 categories. Deese was honored in the Games category.

All under 30 years old, the honorees were vetted during an extensive three-layer process that leveraged the knowledge and authority of Forbes’ wide-reaching community, skilled reporters and expert judges. More than 15,000 online submissions were received for 600 slots, making it a 4 percent acceptance rate.

Deese is based in Washington, D.C., with her husband, Daniel Eldredge.

She has produced internationally acclaimed and bestselling applications for the Smithsonian, such as “BumperDucks,” ″Disaster Detector” and “Showbiz Safari.” Her app titled “Morphy!” received an honoree award during The Webby Awards in 2016. “Aquation: The Freshwater Access Game” was a 2018 nominee for The Webby Awards inaugural games category for Public Service & Activism.

Her apps have been used in more than 100 countries and have topped the Top Charts on the Apple App Store worldwide.

“Working at the Smithsonian is absolutely amazing,” Deese said. “You’re working with some of the smartest people in the world. I’m always learning. I’m always growing.”

Digital media no more than a hobby for Deese when she started pursuing a career. She relied on educational games and the Discovery Channel to learn as she was growing up, Deese said.

“I really appreciated the role media played in my life growing up and I have a affinity for it now,” she said.

Despite her love for media, Deese went on to study Biology and received a degree from Methodist University.

“I thought I wanted to go to medical school but realized it was a good shtick for me so I re-evaluated what I wanted to do,” Deese said. “After my senior year, I decided I wanted to pursue media.”

While at Elon University studying interactive media, Deese realized she wanted to work with children’s media and combine her love for science and media. It was luck that allowed Deese to work for the Smithsonian right after receiving her master’s degree.

“When I graduated, the Smithsonian just so happened to have a job available for someone to develop digital media products for kids within the science field,” she said.

Deese has now worked as the manager of Digital Media and she leads the digital media team throughout the production and distribution of Smithsonian STEM products, such as game apps, interactives, and videos for children around the world. She uses curriculum-based themes to create innovative ways for children to learn through media. Deese said she studies commercial products to see what children are buying and what teachers and parents are buying for their children. She then tests the products on children.

“Kids are very honest,” she said.

One of her games involves an alien that lands on an Earth-like planet, which is an unusual game for the Smithsonian, Deese said.

“But in the game you learn that different animal have traits they use for survival,” she said. “It’s just a creative approach to teach something that some students have a hard time learning about and understanding.”

Deese also is a voting member of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, a member of the Smithsonian Networks Review Committee for Smithsonian Channel, a Smithsonian unit editor for the Smithsonian Magazine Voices blog, a member of the digital advisory board for the Smithsonian’s American Women’s History Initiative, the Smithsonian representative for the White House’s Computer Science for All initiative, and the co-chair for Smithsonian Gaming.

She has helped raise money for digital development and served as a co-principal investigator for several grants related to game development.

In the future, Deese sees herself working for various nonprofits, being a CEO of a company and even being a congresswoman representing Robeson County.

Deese’s games are available for free on multiple media platforms, including cell phones, tablets and computers.

“We tried to make them as accessible as possible because children all over the world are using them,” she said.

Deese will be launching a new game titled “Tammy’s Tower: Let’s Think About Engineering” for children in grades kindergarten through second. The game will be published on Google Play, Apple App Store and the Amazon App store in December.

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Information from: The Robesonian, http://www.robesonian.com

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