Jessica Nelson is a sophomore in the Cockrell School's Chandra Family Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin. In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, we spoke with Jessica to learn more about her time in Texas ECE and what her heritage means to her.
Tell me a little about yourself. How did you end up at UT? What path led you here?
I am from Fort Worth, Texas, and a second year ECE student. With a good background in grade school math, my parents encouraged me to join the Pilot STEM Program at my middle school. I enjoyed those classes to the fullest extent, and I chose to carry my studies to high school. As for selecting UT, it was a flip of the coin: I am on the younger side of my class so I decided if I did not get into UT, which is the only school I applied for, I would take a gap year and start my college studies elsewhere. In the end, I got the lucky side of the coin and was accepted, and I can’t imagine being happier with any other path.
Who has been a major influence on your life and how?
My parents and my brother have had the greatest influence on my life. My brother was the one to fuel my curiosity; he would always bring home something he had made and talk about new developments within the technology community. My parents would teach and inform me of all the topics he spoke of, which made me more knowledgeable. The final influence outside of my family was my 1st year high school teacher, Amanda Kenyon. Kenyon would notice my effort and intuitiveness on class assignments and design projects, and I would encourage many young ladies to follow an ECE path. Overall, Mrs. Kenyon deserves much of the credit for ensuring my career path. I don’t think my high school ever gave her the credit she deserves.
If you could provide one positive memory of your time at UT so far that stands out, what would that be?
My most recent comforting memory was the emotional support I received after an exam, not from friends or people in the class, but from the professor and the TAs. It reminded me that I am in a community that wants everyone to succeed and that anyone is willing to help. It is a safe place for any student to fail and learn from their mistakes.
What are your future goals?
For hobbies, I’m hoping to pick up my clarinet again and play the pieces I couldn’t before. For my career, I’m hoping to find a job that deals with military defenses or unmanned systems. My grandfather was a part of the military, and anyone with relatives in the military (or any job with potential dangers) just wants their loved ones to come home safely. I want to work on systems that will bring a loved one back home.
What does Native American Heritage Month mean to you?
Native American Heritage Month is when the nation recognizes its indigenous peoples and the promises that have been made to them. It is the time where the nation recognizes the contributions and sacrifices Natives have given to America, along with the broken promises and intent to decimate from the past actions of America as a nation. November is the month when we recognize both groups as equals. Occasionally I hear stories of people stating that this ethnic group is gone or ‘extinct’: we are not gone, instead we are alive and strong; upholding the pride in our way of life.
How has your heritage affected your life in a unique way?
When I was a child, I recognized the hard work my relatives put into their day-to-day lives. While they might not have all the latest pieces of technology, they are still happy without it. Though I work with a lot of technology on a day-to-day basis, I learned that, while hard work will give happiness, having family near teaches more than what could ever be learned in a classroom. The lessons they have taught me stay with me, and have made me into someone that I will always respect and love as I do with my family.