Outreach programs lead Jessica George to pursue education in environmental engineering

Jessica George

Jessica George

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(Sept. 28, 2010)--At Ronald Reagan High School, Jessica George loaded up on liberal arts classes, hoping to pursue a career in either social work or law. She had two uncles with engineering degrees, "but I just never got the bug," she said.

In the spring of her sophomore year, however, she learned about the UTSA Summer Research Stipend Program. The competitive summer program allows students to work on active engineering research projects while getting paid. She applied to the program and was accepted.

For two months, George studied osteo imperfecta alongside mechanical engineering professor Xiaodu Wang in the UTSA Hard Tissue Biomechanics Laboratory. The genetic condition, better known as brittle bones, occurs mostly in children and is estimated to affect up to 50,000 people.

"That summer was an incredible experience," George recalled. "I was able to work with specimens and do other things that opened my eyes to the work of science and the scientific process."

Intrigued, George returned to the program and Wang's laboratory the following summer. During her second stint in the laboratory, she learned about computer modeling. She also gained an understanding of engineering's many facets.

"I learned that engineering isn't just about sitting there building things," said George. "It teaches you to think. You have to put your brain through a workout, and you have to look at things from a different perspective. If anything, that's what made me fall in love with it."

Ultimately, she applied to UTSA and was accepted. She loves engineering but is quick to admit the road to an engineering degree is arduous. To ensure her math skills were rock solid, she opted to take UTSA's "Just in Time Math" during her freshman year. The course is offered by the UTSA Center for Excellence in Engineering Education (CE3) to freshman engineering majors. It teaches mathematics principles and shows students how those principals apply to engineering problems.

George also took a part-time position in the Environmental Engineering Laboratory run by Professor Heather Shipley. Her research team is studying how nanoparticles can be used to remove metal pollutants from drinking water sources.

"Engineering is more than just math and science," said Shipley. "It takes well-rounded individuals like Jessica to solve our current problems. Students with a liberal arts background add a different perspective. Through engineering support programs like 'Just in Time Math,' students who initially did not think they could pursue STEM disciplines can become successful and well-rounded engineers."

George expects to graduate with her bachelor's degree in December 2013.