What do you want to be when you grow up?

This daunting question is often asked of children who have hardly been alive long enough to know about career opportunities other than public offices, celebrity platforms and what their parents do for a living. It often isn’t until much later in life – after their talents and desires are honed – when anyone can muster a well-informed answer.

This was the case for Cali Fidopiastis, who never pictured herself as the inspiring scientist she is today.

Cali’s life changed dramatically in 1991, when she sustained a tragic injury while playing tennis and was permanently blinded in one eye. Unable to accept the coach’s assessment that she hit the ball into her own eye, Cali set out to prove them wrong.

“I created a mathematical model of my injury and a dynamic physics model to demonstrate how the accident could have occurred,” explained the UCF School of Modeling, Simulation and Training (MS&T) Ph.D. graduate, who also holds bachelor’s degrees in psychology, biology and a master’s degree in sociology (experimental design) from the University of California Irvine.

During the modeling and simulation process, Cali realized a staggering 30 percent of children playing tennis could sustain the same injury when playing in the same place as she had been on the court. Understanding the ability of this type of simulation to impact lives, she was instantly sold on a new career path. “That changed my course,” said Cali, who originally set out to be a general medical practitioner.

Today, as innovator and chief scientist for Design Interactive, Cali is empowered in a role where her diverse educational backgrounds intersect. Serving an array of clients – from military to hospitals – Design Interactive specializes in virtual and augmented reality software solutions for human performance. Constantly assessing how to take her work “into the real world,” Cali has contributed to projects such as AUGMENTOR™, an augmented reality application for vehicle maintenance, and MedAR, an augmented reality battlefield trauma care trainer.

While Cali thrives in an environment where new technology is being researched and tested daily, it’s not just this aspect of the job that excites her. Rather, Cali enjoys the culture at Design Interactive, where collaboration is king from product conception to launch.

“Our team is extremely supportive and encouraging of each other,” she said. “We help each team member grow their capabilities to reach their highest potential – ultimately, this elevates our product line.”

Cali was eager to accept the job at Design Interactive largely for the opportunity to work with its founder, Kay Stanney, a veteran of Orlando’s multibillion-dollar MS&T industry. “Kay was a professor of mine at UCF… her 20-year career growth pattern was very empowering for me to see. It’s one reason why, when she asked me to come back as her chief scientist, it was an easy ‘yes.’”

Cali may consider herself fortunate to be back in Orlando at Design Interactive, yet surely, it’s the fortune of our region to have such a brilliant scientist call The Corridor “home.” Undoubtedly, she is pioneering a new career path for children to consider when they grow up.

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