Pioneer Spotlight: Jaclyn Esqueda

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August 22, 2014
Jaclyn Esqueda

As a member of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville College of Engineering, Mathematics and Science Student Success Program’s staff, Jaclyn Esqueda helps to support students —of all ages — pursuing the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. Her primary responsibility as special programs manager is to coordinate activities related to UW-Platteville’s National Science Foundation STEM Talent Expansion Program Grant, including the day-to-day operations of the CenterPOINT. Esqueda also assists with some of the outreach, recruitment and retention programs within the Women in EMS Program.

What are some of the initiatives made possible through the National Science Foundation's STEM Talent Expansion Program Grant?

The main goal of the STEP grant is to increase and improve undergraduate student recruitment, engagement and retention in STEM disciplines. We try to keep all of our initiatives in line with that goal. The grant team also believes strongly that UW-Platteville already has a lot of great services and support for students, so we try to partner with other campus offices and departments whenever possible to create a more holistic and seamless experience for the students.

One of the big pieces of the grant is the College of EMS CenterPOINT, which is a student study and resource space located in Ottensman Hall. It was an old classroom that was remodeled and reopened for the fall 2013 semester. It’s an awesome location for students to come and hang out or study between classes. We try to be really intentional about making sure the space is a comfortable, welcoming, learning environment and a place that students really want to be.

The STEP grant also supports the Undergraduate Research and Travel Grant program that allows students to apply for funds to conduct independent research or travel to professional conferences. There’s also a Career Exploration initiative that involves industry partners and allows students to travel to different companies to learn more about jobs in their chosen fields. There are many more activities that STEP is involved in, but these are a few of the current ones.

CenterPOINT has been open a full academic year now; how have you found it to be supporting students' success?

The CenterPOINT had a great first year. We had more than 7,000 visits from more than 700 unique visitors, who came to the space for lots of reasons, including individual study; group study; socializing; computer work; meeting with tutors, peer assisted leaders and mentors; using resources like phone chargers, calculators and headphones; taking advantage of amenities like the Keurig coffee machine, microwave and free snacks; and more. We issued a survey to our users, and 69 percent felt the CenterPOINT impacted their academic success. Eighty nine percent indicated that they found the space to be comfortable and welcoming. It’s really important to us that the students get what they need and want out of the space, so it was encouraging to see their positive response to it this first year. Of course we’ll continue to listen to their feedback and suggestions and make enhancements moving forward.

What are some of the opportunities you've had to do STEM outreach within the tri-state area, and why is that community outreach important?

Every year, we host three outreach programs for young women on campus. This year, we were also invited to attend events in Elkader, Iowa; Milwaukee, Wis.; Rockford, Ill.; and two in Dubuque, Iowa. I have to give a lot of the credit for these outreach activities to the student staff, who are excellent role models and do a great job planning hands-on activities that get younger students excited about STEM.

STEM-related community outreach is important for several reasons. First, we know that in the United States, there are more jobs in STEM-related fields than we have qualified people to fill them. This gap is projected to increase in coming years. Add to that the fact that there is a significant body of research that shows that many youth (especially young women) begin to turn away from an interest in science and math around middle school, and it makes economic and social sense that we should support and encourage middle and high school students to explore STEM.

Second, there are many myths and misconceptions that exist about STEM fields. By participating in outreach, we can share and demonstrate all of the exciting, creative, world-changing opportunities these careers can offer. Providing accurate information about STEM options allows youth to make educated decisions about their future career paths and lead more fulfilled lives.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy many things about my job, but I would say my favorite part is getting to be a member of a university community that truly cares about the success of its students. I feel privileged to be able to contribute to creating a meaningful, life-changing educational experience for students. 

Interview conducted by: Alison Parkins, University Information and Communications.
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