When Jessica Figueroa discovered her passion for renewable energy, her goals fell into place
Getting a college education has been an 18-year journey for Jessica Figueroa of Haverhill, a 34-year old mother of two.
Through the years, Figueroa majored in accounting and physical education at three different colleges, and most of the time she was working full time.
When choosing her first two majors, Jessica made decisions based on practicalities like the earning power of accountants and the family-friendly work hours of being a gym teacher, but she wasn’t necessarily following her passions.
A summer trip to a campground that uses natural energy for all of its power is what finally captured her interest and brought it all together for her. “It fascinated me…I decided I wanted to be an engineer and work in the energy field.”
Figueroa, who already had an associate degree in General Studies: Movement Science from Northern Essex, switched gears, and dove into her classes, focusing on math, engineering, and chemistry, which she found she “loves”.
Last spring, she earned an associate degree in engineering from Northern Essex, and she is now enrolled at UMass Lowell in the chemical engineering program. This past summer, she also landed a prestigious STEM fellowship with Station 1, a unique science and technology program with a focus on societal perspective and social innovation and impact. Program coursework and an internship with Aphios Corporation, a Woburn biotechnology company developing treatments for cancer, infectious diseases such as HIV, and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and opioid disorder, created an “eye-opening” experience for her. “It made me realize how important it is to not just find solutions, but to also think about what the consequences are to the solution and also look deeper into what causes the problem,” she says.
While she has found her niche in engineering, Figueroa admits there are still decisions to be made. “After I finish my bachelor’s degree, I am torn between continuing school for my PhD or going right into the workforce. I feel like I’m still on this journey of figuring out what I want to do ultimately.”
Figueroa advices other students juggling college, work, and family responsibilities not to get discouraged. She encourages others to be aware of the many resources available, especially the tutoring center, her go-to when she needed help in any subject. She also gives a great deal of credit to her partner of 10 years. “If it wasn’t for his support and his being there as a father figure to my children, I don’t think I would have made it this far into my education.”
Northern Essex offers an associate degree in Engineering Science that transfers to colleges and universities like UMass Lowell. Students can choose from concentrations including chemical, civil-environmental, electrical/computer, and mechanical. To learn more, visit the website.