Commencement Close-Up: Jessica Jimenez breaks the mold for success

Jessica Jimenez

Jessica Jimenez
(Photo by Tim Luukkonen)

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(May 7, 2012) -- For Jessica Jimenez, graduating from college meant breaking the mold for what many of her peers in Hidalgo, Texas considered the norm. With graduation rates for Hidalgo County hovering below 16 percent, many stop at a high school diploma. But, she didn't stop.

While in high school however, Jimenez started paving a different path by participating in the Dual Enrollment Engineering Academy. Through the program, she did her high school coursework in the morning at the Science Academy of South Texas and did college-level coursework at South Texas College.

By maintaining this rigorous schedule, she graduated in 2009 with a high school diploma and associate degree in engineering. Now, three years later, Jimenez will earn her UTSA bachelor's degree in civil engineering and in the fall will begin work toward a master's in civil engineering with a structural engineering emphasis at Stanford.

Fully aware of the high cost of a college education, Jimenez applied for a Dell Scholarship and was awarded $20,000 to assist with her undergraduate studies. Additionally, she was awarded the Gates Millennium Scholarship that has covered additional expenses during her time at UTSA and will provide funding as she continues her studies at Stanford. The scholarship will fund her studies all the way to a doctorate if she chooses. So as not to take for granted the value and expense of a college education, she set her sights on making the most of it.

As a member of the Honors College, she was active in various student organizations including the Society of Hispanic Engineers and the American Society of Civil Engineers. Additionally, she studied abroad in China on two separate occasions, first in an honors seminar and the second time studying the history and culture of Chinese society and politics.

Jimenez also made research a part of her college experience and last summer did research on "Castle Hills: Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Options." The research was conducted at the UTSA Laboratory for Remote Sensing and Geoinformatics working with Steve Ackley, UTSA associate professor of research, under the Minority Opportunities for Research Experience in Earth Science and Environmental Engineering Program (MORESE) funded by the U.S. Department of Education Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program (MSEIP).

"Jessica personifies what we expect to be a trend in the College of Engineering here at UTSA," said Mauli Agrawal, College of Engineering dean. "With females making up only 14 percent of the College of Engineering, Jessica is a role model for those wanting to excel in the field not only at the university level but professionally."

During her time at UTSA, Jimenez saw the importance of internship experience and worked for Exxon Mobil two summers in a row. The first summer, she worked in the development company studying the decommissioning of offshore oil platforms. During her second internship, she did oil remediation in California, where she studied oil and gas extraction from the ground. Throughout her internships, Jimenez worked alongside students from M.I.T., Berkeley and Harvard.

"Exxon recruited students from high-caliber schools and I saw that I was able to perform at the same level as the other interns," Jimenez said. "At times, people my age underestimate schools like UTSA, and they shouldn't. With my education here at UTSA, I was more than prepared to work alongside the students from other schools and am prepared to continue my education at Stanford."

Before heading to Stanford this fall, Jimenez will intern once again with Exxon Mobil's Environmental Services Co. in Fairfax, Va.