Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Volunteer Spotlight: Jessica Bearden

Jessica Bearden was born in South Carolina and moved to Texas at the age of 5 where she stayed through high school. She is from a south Texas town named McAllen just 10 minutes from the Mexican border. She was very active as a kid, playing soccer and tennis mostly, but also volleyball, softball, and track and field. Much of her free time as a teenager was spent practicing for, training for, and participating in organized sports. She is still very active to this day.

During spring break of her senior year of high school, Jessica spent 10 days visiting London, England, and Paris, France. She loved her time in Europe so much that she wanted to move there! It was understood that she would go to college at some point, but she felt that she must first have a chance to grow up and become independent, separate from the rigor of college classes. “I didn’t want to be the dog off the leash,” she says. “So I cut the cord and put an ocean in between.” She ended up living in London for over a year.

When she returned to the U.S., Jessica worked at a restaurant for a year and a half before going back to college. She enrolled at The University of Texas-Pan American near her hometown. She graduated in May 2008 with degrees in biology and chemistry. Math and science have always been her strongest subjects. As a kid her favorite question was “Why?” and she feels that math/science gives you the answer.

The summer before her senior year, Jessica had a 10-week internship at Argonne National Laboratory, which is in a southwest suburb of Chicago. She had another internship there during her senior year, and when she graduated, they offered her a job! She has worked there for three years now. She is a molecular biologist who works with DNA and bacteria. A typical day for her is spent growing DNA and testing protein in a laboratory. “The days I least enjoy are in front of a computer running tests,” she says.

As a permanent Chicago resident, Jessica really appreciates the warm days now. “Having seasons is kind of nice,” she says. She also likes fall and winter fashion. You don’t get to wear many jackets in Texas. One of her hobbies at present is Ultimate Frisbee. She plays on a women’s team that travels around the Midwest. She encourages youth to pick up the sport because it is big on college campuses.

At Cabrini Connections, Jessica works with 8th grader NyShanell Freeman. They have worked together for three years since being paired up at Cabrini Green Tutoring Program. “NyShanell is a little shy, but she came out of her shell with me,” says Jessica. When alumnus Eboni Rivera and her mentor Susan Nice spoke during a tutoring session last year, NyShanell said to Jessica: “That’s going to be us someday.” Jessica says matter-of-factly, “I don’t really have a choice anymore,” so she’s in it for the long run.

Jessica’s tip for mentors is to be patient and communicative. “[The students] are not as childlike as we imagine.” And for the youth, she says, “Don’t try to grow up too fast. Enjoy this time.” Thanks, Jessica!

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