Mechanical engineering, surveying, community service, family ties to Central America — these are just a few facets of Jessica Escobar. Together, they help define a young woman who wants to end poverty in the world’s poorest countries.
A freshman at University of Texas at Austin, and the daughter of immigrant parents, Escobar was born in the United States. After a visit to El Salvador a few years ago, she was inspired to pursue engineering to help its people “build up their communities and help them make a difference,” she says.
All they need is just a push, a start,” Escobar explains. “And so, I want to study project management to manage projects in El Salvador and other Third World nations that will help them escape poverty and start growing as their own nations.”
Escobar started gaining the experience to bring about such change while at Duncanville (Texas) High School. One summer, taking a college-level engineering class, several of her classmates were parkour athletes. These enthusiasts enjoy watching, shooting and uploading videos of themselves doing stunts, so students agreed on a plan to add Wi-Fi technology to their local parkour park.
“We wanted to revolutionize what a ‘park’ means,” she says.
As project manager, Escobar developed a proposal with her team, then worked with city officials to gain approval and have funds allocated. “In the beginning, they were treating us as high-school students and not taking us seriously, but we were persistent and professional,” she adds. Once the city realized how serious the students were, the project was underway, and Wi-Fi is now available at the park.
A presentation on the project later earned Escobar, with her partner Amira Reeves, a silver medal in SkillsUSA’s Community Action Project event.
During her sophomore year, Escobar took an engineering course that included land surveying, which led to her breaking new ground in another field.
Her instructor, Barton Burnette, asked the class if anyone was interested in math and the outdoors. Escobar signed up. As part of a state-only Land Surveying competition team, she and other SkillsUSA students earned third place. That led to her becoming, at age 16, a certified survey technician — the first female from her high school to do so and possibly one of the youngest in history.
“I was really astonished by everything that happened,” says Escobar, adding that SkillsUSA has made her a person who seeks to share her knowledge to help others help themselves.
With help from the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS), she formed a club to help teach other students the basics of land surveying and to prepare them for contests. From NSPS, Escobar learned the math of surveying and the proper use of tools. Since the club’s start two years ago, more high-school students have earned national certification.
Courage to dream, initiative to act
Serving is as important to Escobar as surveying. She’s volunteered at her local library and food bank. To help students better understand the plight of those less fortunate, she organized Homeless for the Night. In the winter, students donated $5, showed up with blankets and slept outside on the school’s tennis courts.
“Being in SkillsUSA has shown me that there are other people like me out there,” she says. “There are other people who don’t care if they’re female in engineering. [Students in SkillsUSA] strive to do what their passion is.
“When I entered high school, I was the quiet kid in the corner who’d be like, ‘Don’t talk to me.’ And now … I’m like, ‘Interview me. I have something to tell you.’ This organization has prepared me to take on the challenge of a leadership role and pursue my passion to excel and advance through education.
“My dream is to become an engineering project manager to manage projects that will help communities take action to begin the process of escaping poverty,” she adds. “Although it would take a million lifetimes to accomplish my dream for the world, SkillsUSA has helped me develop the courage to dream now and the initiative to take action once I have the tools in my hands. I would not stand here today with this dream if I had never become a SkillsUSA member.”