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First-Year Jessica Gardea

First-Year Jessica Gardea

younger Jessica

For Jessica Gardea, the first few months of college have included a few surprises. One surprise was how difficult some of her classes have been.

“Classes were pretty shocking at first,” says Gardea, who ranked third in her class of 600 at Franklin High School in El Paso. “I wasn’t quite as prepared as I thought I was. I’m getting the hang of things, though.”

Another, more pleasant surprise was laundry.

"It’s so much easier than I thought it would be,” says Gardea, who’d never been away from her home in El Paso for very long before coming to Austin.

Perhaps the most significant surprise for Gardea, whose father is the chair of the chemistry department at The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), is that it’s biology, rather than chemistry, that’s been the most exciting subject so far, and the one that she’s thinking she may choose as her major.

“It’s probably the most difficult course I’m taking, but I love being there,” she says. “The teacher, Dr. Moon Draper, is amazing. He’s willing to devote as much time to us as we want. He actually comes to our study groups.”

As for chemistry, Gardea still finds it interesting, and may end up majoring in it, but the introductory course has been frustrating. One of the problems, she says, is that it takes for granted a fair amount of knowledge about physics, which she didn’t take in high school.

On the social side, Gardea’s experience so far has been almost entirely positive. She went to, and enjoyed, a football game. She’s playing intramural volleyball (she was a volleyball star in high school). She went to Austin City Limits with her sister, who came up from El Paso for the event. She’s joined a sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha, and has become good friends with a lot of her sorority sisters. She’s enjoying the Dean’s Scholars Honors program, both for its academic and social benefits. And she digs Austin, and likes being at the university.

“It’s such an energetic city,” says Gardea. “And UT is so full of great people who are dedicated to their schoolwork but also well-rounded.”

This article originally appeared in the October 2009 issue of Insight.

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