Alumni: Jessica Helgesen, BA ’12

Jessica Helgesen, BA ’12: After graduation, I searched for positions related to environmental geography, planning, and community engagement that incorporated the opportunity to use my Spanish. My overall goal was to find a position that would help me gain more experience before heading to graduate school or participating in the Peace Corps.

Shortly after graduation, I had the opportunity to work in Madison, WI for about 1.5 years at Dane County Parent Council, Inc. as a Bilingual Family Outreach Worker (FOW) at the Preschool Enrichment Program (PEP) located at the East Madison Community Center. I worked with many Spanish-speaking families, improving my Spanish skills, and I learned how to better engage low-income and diverse communities. With a background in Environmental Geography and Urban Studies, I decided to complete a Family Service Credential to provide more effective social services to the Head Start Families. Working in Head Start as FOW had its challenges and rewards, but I rarely delved into the environmental realm. I really wanted to use my degrees I received at UWM and follow my dream to mend and/or create sustainable regions.

To take a step towards the latter dream, I applied to the Peace Corps. Starting mid-March 2014, I will travel to Mexico to serve with the Peace Corps, participating in a project focusing on Environment and Natural Resource Management as a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) /Information Technology Specialist. After three months of training, the Peace Corps officials will place each volunteer to a specific urban or rural location in central or southern Mexico. I will establish relationships with the community and other important stakeholders and analyze the GIS needs of the host agency and provide assistance with these said needs to help empower the community/agency, among other tasks. In training, I will receive more specific guidance on the needs within the country in regards to the project.

I am excited to partake in a new adventure with Peace Corps. Along with other opportunities, the Geography Department specifically helped me prepare for international experiences via my undergraduate thesis, fieldwork, and multiple international immersions.