Meet One of the Wizards Bringing Hogwarts to Hollywood

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Meet One of the Wizards Bringing Hogwarts to Hollywood

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How @FIRSTweets put an aspiring @UniStudios technologist on the Hogwarts Express #WizardingWorldHollywood
Tuesday, December 29, 2015 - 10:00am

With the Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ scheduled to open at Universal Studios Hollywood on April 7, 2016, meet one of the members of NBCUniversal’s Creative Team bringing Hogwarts to life and learn how robotics sparked her interest in technology at an early age.  

As a sixth-grader, Erica McCay didn’t look to join the debate club or the track team. Instead, she became a “Moosette” – a member of her school’s all-girls electric go-kart racing team. It was “a loose introduction to engineering,” Erica says. “We learned how to wire a battery and operate machine tools, such as a drill press.”

Erica McCay learned the basics of engineering behind the wheel of an electric go-kart.

That experience hooked her on technology. Today Erica, who is 27, works with NBCUniversal’s Creative Team, currently managing the design and installation of animated props and special effects at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ at Universal Studios Hollywood theme park in California.

And she’s deeply committed to inspiring young people to follow in her footsteps as one of 100 Comcast NBCUniversal employees volunteering this school year to collectively mentor hundreds of students through our company’s support of FIRST.

Erica and the other employee mentors work with high school students nationwide as they organized teams to design and build robots that participated in an annual FIRST® Robotics Competition. A New Hampshire-based nonprofit, FIRST aims to inspire children of all ages to be science and technology leaders, and Comcast NBCUniversal has supported FIRST since 2008 with team sponsorships and employee mentors.

Giving back in this way is personal for Erica since she was once a part of her high school’s robotics team.

Erica recalled that at Gunn High School in Palo Alto, Calif., the team’s mentor imparted more than words of wisdom – he lit a spark. "He instilled a problem-solving mindset, always helping us get unstuck by seeking different viewpoints and trying different solutions. (He) made me realize that I can do what I love and get paid for it – it didn’t have to be a hobby."

When Erica moved on to study mechanical engineering at the Oregon Institute of Technology, she took her four years of Gunn Robotics experience and continued to pay it forward by mentoring younger students participating in the FIRST LEGO League. She also pitched in to help guide a FIRST Robotics team at a high school in the Bay Area, and additionally accompanied one of her former mentors to Singapore to start a robotics competition there.

"Robotics is so much more than engineering," she says. "You get to learn about business, network with other teams, and really build a community."

After graduating and spending the first two-and-a-half years of her career designing sets for theatrical productions, Erica sought out a job that would enable her to create more hands-on experiences for the audience. The theme park industry was a good match, and it turned out her FIRST involvement gave her a leg up on the competition during the hiring process. "They knew I had direct experience designing and building – and could work with intense time pressures to create a finished product as part of a team."

Now two years into her job with NBCUniversal, she can’t imagine working in any other field. "I get to help people become a part of the stories they love. When you watch people go through Hogwarts in Orlando, and strangers finding common ground no matter where they’re from ... it’s awesome."

Erica also got to show off her design skills in another way. In 2014, she helped design the trophy for the Media & Technology Innovation Award, which is sponsored by Comcast NBCUniversal and handed out during the FIRST Robotics Championship in St. Louis, Mo.

Says Erica of her budding career as a theme park designer: "I am in the perfect place. This is the industry I never knew I wanted to be in."

This profile originally appeared in Inside CI, a digital publication providing an insider’s look at the people and programs behind Comcast NBCUniversal’s investment in our communities. 

Keywords: Technology | FIRST Robotics | Harry Potter | STEM | Theme Parks | Universal Studios | Women in Technology | robotics