Honoring Women in STEM: Tatiana Pilon

Graduate student discusses mentorship, empowering women, and diversity in animation

Tatiana Pilon

“There was always a huge push at home to go above and beyond in my education,” Tatiana Pilon said of her parents, whom she credits with instilling in her the drive to explore and to push the boundaries of education and success. Raised in both São Paulo and Rancharia, Brazil, Pilon spent many years working in investment banking before making a major transition towards a tech-oriented path at companies like Google and Quri in the United States. Pilon called her time in Silicon Valley the “best five years of my life,” but she still felt a pull towards combining her technical and business expertise with her love of animation. With NYU Tandon’s Integrated Digital Media program, Pilon discovered she could be not just an engineer, but also a scientist, a technologist, and an artist.

Since starting the master’s program at NYU Tandon, Pilon has worked with augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and animation — even creating AR mobile applications and games like an interactive treasure hunt in Central Park. She was also selected as one of Bloomberg Beta’s Future Founders, was a project coordinator on the Design for America (DFA) NYU project S.S. Columbia, a co-founder of the NYU Tandon Advisory Board, and is an active mentor in the NYU WoMentorship program.

Through NYU WoMentorship, Pilon mentors two first-year graduate women, helping them navigate academic challenges, life in New York, and networking in the tech industry. “I really love the WoMentorship program because a lot of things I went through myself, I wanted these girls to not feel like I did and to get out of their shell much quicker than I did.” Pilon understands firsthand how essential a network of support and network of women is within this industry and in academia. “In many meetings, I would look around and realize I’m the only woman,” she recalled of her days working in financial services and at tech companies. “It’s so easy to just sit in a meeting and not say what you’re thinking because you don’t feel it is going to be validated or empowered.” Pilon hopes women in STEM seek out groups and mentors, to provide a guiding and supportive hand, and to work together towards creating innovative designs and solutions to social problems.

DeAngela Duff, co-director and associate professor of Integrated Digital Media (IDM), noted how Pilon is a “key member” of IDM as “she is very much a connector.” “Through her research in VR, she has made connections across NYU with other people who are also doing VR, and she’s very active in our community mentoring our female IDM students.”

Her passionate commitment to representing and supporting women and minorities in STEM extends into her academic work and desire for social good, as Pilon is currently focusing her thesis project on representation and identity within animation and virtual reality. “I grew up with 2D animation on screen, but I never saw myself represented through those characters,” Pilon said. “And when I did see myself represented, it was sometimes an unflattering way to be represented, as a woman, as a minority, and as a Latina.” Her thesis is exploring virtual reality embodiment and questions whether an immersive experience within an avatar of a gender and race different from the user will encourage connections and empathy with diverse characters.

After sharing her thesis research with attendees of the Anita Borg Institute’s Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, Pilon found mentors and supporters of the project. “That showed me that I’m not alone in trying to tackle diversity in media and entertainment, and this is an issue that should move forward and be questioned,” she said. Pilon hopes to use the skills garnered within IDM, Design for America NYU, and her technical and business acumen to lead teams towards successful and positive goals.

Camila Ryder
Graduate School of Arts and Science
Master of Arts in English Literature, Class of 2018