By Ben Crnic
After graduating from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Jessica Maita came to UConn as a master’s student in MSE. After her first year here, however, Maita was instead determined to pursue a Ph.D. She is now a doctoral student in MSE professor Seok-Woo Lee’s group, where her research focuses on the multi-scale microstructural characterization and mechanical properties of nanocrystalline magnesium aluminate ceramics, materials that are of special interest for transparent armor applications.
When she is not spending time on her research or serving as president of the UConn Materials Research Society (MRS) Chapter (https://mrs.engr.uconn.edu), Maita volunteers for outreach activities that assist high school students in the process of applying to college. These activities are conducted with the help of the UConn School of Engineering’s Bridge to the Doctorate (BD) Fellowship Program, which supports African American, Hispanic and/or Native American students pursuing graduate degrees in STEM.
As one example of her outreach efforts, Maita participated on a BD-organized graduate student panel that addressed low-income, underrepresented students in the Connecticut Collegiate Awareness and Preparation Program (ConnCap) Program at Danbury High School.
“Previously being in their position, I knew the students could benefit from advice we could provide. It is common for students from this background to feel pressured into specific career paths but we were able to provide information on the many career options they have as well as all the opportunities they should take advantage of while being an undergraduate student,” Maita said.
Maita believes that it is crucial to reach high school students before they move on to college.
“Though I am a strong supporter of the programs available at the university level, I believe support needs to be provided sooner. The earlier you can reach students the sooner they can prepare for success,” Maita said.
Her background makes her sympathize with students who may be in a position similar to the one she was once in, and it motivates her to participate in these outreach activities.
“I know how it feels to have to go through the college experience with very limited help from your family. Their minimal English and elementary level education made it difficult for my parents to help me, whether that be financial or emotional help. I want to provide the information students need to be successful, so that they can take advantage of the opportunities I didn’t know about,” Maita said.
“This fellowship made it possible for me to pursue my graduate degree without the financial burden I was originally going to shoulder,” Maita said.
After joining MSE, Maita formed a close bond with other BD fellows.
“Not only did I receive financial support but I also gained a family at UConn. All current BD fellows meet on a biweekly basis to discuss our professional and personal development. BD provided a group of friends that are experiencing similar issues as me and which I know I can turn to when I need help,” Maita said.
Maita plans to continue with her outreach activities in the future.
“When an opportunity presents itself, I make an effort to help,” she said. Ultimately, after completing her Ph.D., Maita would like to work in industry.
Professor Lee wants other MSE students to learn from her example.
“Jessica is a truly wonderful student who takes care of others a lot. She has already made a significant contribution to outreach as well as university-level service more than any other student I know. I hope that many students will look to Jessica as their role model and follow Jessica’s career path. I really appreciate her considerate leadership.”