Name: Jessica Mary Garcia
Host Site: Humboldt State University, Klamath Connection Program
Alma Mater: Humboldt State University and College of the Siskiyous
Major: Wildlife Biology
Background: The road I took to becoming a CSU STEM VISTA was filled with crossroads, new experiences, ups and downs, tons of self-exploration and self-reflection, ah-ha moments, and new discoveries. The paths I took to get to where I am now really helped shaped me as an individual, as well as opened my eyes to a world of socio-economic and environmental justice issues.
I suppose I will start at the beginning of my undergraduate career. Spring of 2010 was when I enrolled for the Fall 2010 semester at my local junior college, College of the Siskiyous (COS). At the time I was still working for Wholesale Solar, Inc. I worked at Wholesale Solar, Inc. for almost 4 years, and wore an array of hats while I was there. I managed the wholesale accounts to small businesses/installers/contractors, and worked as a sales representative for the company. I continued with this job through my first semester in college and then decided to stop working there to focus solely on my education. This job really opened my eyes to the “real world,” and what I really wanted out of life and for myself. I was exposed to a lot of environmental justice and political issues stemming around renewable energy, and wanted to continue my education in science.
My journey through college was not an easy one. I was the first in my family to seek higher education, and I had no guidance on the college process. Not only was I a first-generation student, but I was also a low-income, underrepresented minority (URM) student that didn’t know about FAFSA. I started going back to school at 23 years of age and needed to take college readiness courses. All in all, college was like Mars to me. Luckily, I sought out help on campus and found and joined the MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science, and Achievement) and TRiO (Student Support Services) programs. I cannot express to you how lost I would have been without these amazing services and dedicated individuals that work for them. Through MESA and TRiO, I started to get involved in issues surrounding social justice. I was shocked at how hard it was for a first generation student to get into and go through college, and I wanted to do something about it.
So, I participated in the University of California’s Annual Student Leadership Forum in 2012 and 2013 where I represented Siskiyou County and COS. I met with our California State Legislators at the capitol to promote academic preparation programs, and participated in leadership training to continue to educate myself on these issues. I again represented the MESA program at COS by attending the 19th Annual Northern California MESA Student Leadership Retreat in 2012 to verse myself in ways I could help my fellow students and peers. Additionally, I participated and volunteered with the California Connects Program through the Foundation for California Community Colleges to expand access to broadband technology and increase digital literacy in underserved communities such as my own.
In the spring of 2013, I received an A.S. degree in Biology and a L.A.S. degree in Natural History at COS. I was so excited about my academic accomplishments and the new possibilities that my future held, and how far I had come. I was elected student speaker for my graduation ceremony, and I felt a pride and a new determination in myself that had heretofore been dormant. I then applied and was accepted into the Wildlife Department at Humboldt State University (HSU) where I would pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Biology. However, I had another adventure to embark upon before that one could begin.
During my last semester at COS, I applied and was accepted into a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. The program was called ‘Biosphere-Atmosphere Interactions in a Changing Global Environment’ through the University of Michigan Biological Station (UMBS). So in June of 2013, I left my hometown for the first time in my life for a 10-week summer REU across the country, where I would put the knowledge I gained to use, and learn more than I could ever have imagined. As a result, I was selected to present the research I had conducted at UMBS at the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) Conference in 2013.
My college career at HSU was rigorous and challenging but also enlightening and invigorating. My academic courses really pushed me to be the best that I could, and allowed me the opportunity to represent HSU at the 2014 and 2015 Annual TWS (The Wildlife Society) Conference in Pittsburgh, PA, and Winnipeg, Canada respectively. I presented research I had conducted at HSU, while attending seminars/presentations on conservation and wildlife issues. I got more involved with TWS by becoming the Education Coordinator for Conservation Unlimited at HSU, which is the Student Chapter of TWS.
Simultaneously, I was a Ford Family Foundation Ford Scholars and a R.A.M.P. (Retention through Academic Mentoring Program) mentor during my time at HSU. I found that mentoring incoming freshman students was a way for me to give back and make a difference by sharing the knowledge that I had gained in navigating my way through the CSU system, and figuring out the best courses of action for succeeding in a science major. It was through this avenue that I became connected with the Klamath Connection program at HSU, and it led me to what I am doing now.
Why You Serve: Serving others makes me feel like I have meaning in life. I find that little progress as a people is made when we solely serve ourselves. However, when we serve others, it not only benefits the individuals serving, but also those we serve, which has a rippling effect and spurs positive change. In a somewhat selfish way, serving my community has allowed me to make friends of similar interests, network, and has gifted me with a feeling of satisfaction in helping others while fulfilling the necessary human contact as to not feel alone in this world. I know what it is like to be an underserved part of the population and the difficulties involved in bettering myself through education. So to be able to share my own experiences to help others in similar situations is priceless to me.
Ah-ha Moment: My studies within a STEM field, my volunteer work for government agencies, my own personal life experiences, and my involvement in promoting and advocating for academic preparation programs has brought to light the disconnect between the general public, policy makers, and scientists. For many years now, I have wanted to help bridge those gaps and create a dialogue for effective communication between these three sectors. I have a continued and growing interest in social, economic, and environmental justice, and a passion for the need of interdisciplinary action in fighting for socio-economic and environmental justice within the United States. Through working with AmeriCorps and the Klamath Connection program, I now see that involvement and service is necessary in promoting positive change. This is why I serve.