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Alumna's Perseverance Leads to Design Career

Elaine Torres App

Elaine Torres BA’17 demonstrates some of her current work on 7-Eleven’s mobile applications.

When Elaine Torres BA’17 enrolled at The University of Texas at Dallas, she was pregnant with her sixth child and looking for an opportunity to jumpstart a professional career that could support her growing family. Now a senior UX visual designer at 7-Eleven, Torres’ determination and new media skills developed at UTD put her on the path to personal fulfillment and financial stability.

In 2011, having returned to Texas after a series of cross-country moves and caught in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Torres and her husband were struggling through a period of tenuous employment. Late one night, with her husband and five children asleep in the one-bedroom hotel room that the family called home, Torres resolved to reverse her family’s fortunes and began to chart the path that would lead her to UT Dallas.

“I needed to find a university that would not only let me go back to school, but also to do the things I really wanted to do,” Torres said. “I love art, creativity, critical thinking and technology. My husband pointed out that I was always on social media, so why don’t I try to do something in that area? I began to think of ways to improve people’s social media experiences.”

After looking at several North Texas universities, Torres was drawn to programs within the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communications at UT Dallas with its unique combination of technology, social media and communication skills training.

On her first walk through campus, Torres was struck by two aspects of the University. Its smaller size gave UT Dallas a familial quality that resonated with the motivating reasons behind her continuing education. The reflecting pools on the school’s main mall also captured her imagination.

“It was beautiful,” she said. “I knew I wanted to be here. But when I went home I thought, how am I going to pay for it?”

With the support of her husband and financial aid, Torres took the leap and enrolled at UT Dallas. What she learned in her first semester inspired entrepreneurial ventures that helped Torres support herself through the rest of her degree.

“I took what I learned that first semester — business management, social media strategy and digital marketing — and utilized those skills to create an online presence as a media consultant and thought leader. Eventually I found work creating websites and managing social media for clients.”

Torres pursued her degree in non-consecutive semesters, alternating semesters of coursework with semesters of professional work. As she became more involved with her professors and academic program, new opportunities began to show themselves.

“UT Dallas was the place that opened up so many doors,” she said. “In those interactions with professors, in extracurricular activities, in all the new things to which I was exposed. I was able to meet new people and explore new avenues that were previously closed off and that I had no idea even existed.”

Elaine Torres Drink

Torres’ Twitter account has had the same tagline since she created it: Will work for Slurpees.

One of those unknown paths — user experience design — would eventually launch her professional career. A chance meeting with a friend resulted in Torres’ association with the UX Club.

“Back in that first semester I had no idea UX design even existed,” she explained. “A friend dragged me along to a club meeting, where there was a speaker from a local company, Universal Mind. They were teaching us their design process, and it just clicked. It took what I already loved doing and showed me the next step. UX design takes that digital experience, that marketing experience, incorporating the technology we use every day and pushes it one step further.”

Once again, Torres was drawn to the family-like atmosphere she found among other designers. She began to pursue opportunities in this field, attending networking events and conferences while continuing her personal business. After graduating, her efforts resulted in the ideal job offer.

“My current boss, Ben Judy, reached out to me through a Slack channel for UX designers,” she said. “He told me about a new group that was forming at 7-Eleven. It was meant to be. My Twitter account has had the same tagline since I created it, which is, ‘Will work for Slurpees.’ I am in the right place!”

In her current role, Torres works on refining and integrating several of 7-Eleven’s digital applications, including mobile scan and pay and fuel rewards.

In 2017, Torres was the first EMAC graduate to speak at Commencement. Her advice to all Comets, both traditional students and those whose paths have been more complicated?

“Never give up,” she said at the spring ceremony. “Know that there is something there for you, a place for you. You need to lay out a plan for yourself and know you can do it. And if you’re going to UT Dallas, you made the right choice.”

— Daniel Steele

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