“I like to keep busy,” Jessica Gilbert says.
And that she does. For a 29-year-old UAA student, she currently holds more titles than most of us do in a lifetime. From being a member of ANSEP to vice president of the Alaska Native/American Indian Science and Engineering (AISES) club on campus to tutoring math kids at UAA to holding two jobs (one as an ANSEP lab tech and the other as a Construction Management Intern at Koht’aene Enterprises) to being a full-time student and a single mom—she literally does it all. But Jessica says the person she was two years ago would be unrecognizable to who she is today.
In 2008, Jessica’s twin sister died sending her into a deep depression. “I didn’t care about life any more. I got down to my last 100 dollar paycheck, and I looked at my son knowing that my life needed to change.”
Jessica considered going back to college, but was hesitant because her first attempt at college didn’t work out so well. “I went to UAA in 2001 for accounting, and failed almost everything. I didn’t take anything seriously.”
One night Jessica’s sister came to her in a dream telling her that she was happy and always with her. She asked Jessica if she was going to go back to school, and Jessica answered unsurely, but her sister insisted that she not give up this time.
Jessica woke with the encouragement she needed to move forward with her life. “I needed to become a role model for my son, and I knew I had an angel on my shoulder to help me through,” she says. When Jessica graduates she will be dedicating her degree to her twin sister.
Holding multiple management jobs, she chose construction management as her major. “I’ve managed everything from restaurants to auto repair shops to an amusement park, so why not construction?”
Upon her return to UAA, Jessica decided to take the College Survival Skills class with Crickett Watt. That, she says, changed her life. “Both Crickett and the information in the class helped paved my path at UAA. I went to the class thinking ‘I’m just here for the easy A,’ but then I realized this is gold!”
The information in the class proved to be so valuable to Jessica that she’s been a guest speaker at this same class. “You learn about how to find scholarships and the importance of applying for them. They tell you to get involved, speak up, sit in the front row and find a study buddy. They even re-teach you how to take notes!”
Jessica’s story is exceptionally inspirational. When she returned to UAA she had a 1.4 GPA, but currently holds a 3.03 GPA.
Even though she’s proud of her accomplishments, she’s even more proud to be a Seawolf. Jessica, who is Athabascan Indian, says there is a definite stereotype that goes along with being Alaska Native. “Growing up I was told I couldn’t do or be anything, but I realize now that I can do anything. We just need to find the right people to get inspired and get involved, because it makes a difference.”
Her advice to incoming native students, “I know that coming into a university can feel intimidating, but if you need help, you can find it here at UAA. Just ask!”