Meet a Husker: Tessa Yackley

Tessa looks into the distance at a waste water management plant

Tessa Yackley is a civil engineering major from Buhler, Kansas. Through her studies and her involvements on campus, she’s encouraging fellow women in STEM and striving to leave this world better than it was yesterday.

What draws you to engineering?

I was never the kid that knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. By the time I was transitioning to college, that became a huge burden on my shoulders. I wanted to help people, that’s what I knew, but I had no idea how I would get there. I asked for help in finding a path and with the help of my academic advisor, I gained the assistance of campus career services. I decided to pursue a major in civil engineering. With a major in civil engineering, I want to build a new foundation for community expectations starting with structural sustainability and wastewater system design to cultivate environmental safety. I love the career path I found. It is full of never-ending opportunities to grow and change. As a future engineer, I realize how vital my role will be in creating real change that will have an impact on the lives of so many. That is my favorite part of engineering. It is all about a life of using your creativity and skill to cultivate real change in and for those around you.

Talk a little about being a woman in STEM.

As a woman in a very male-dominated field I have a different viewpoint than 80% of my classmates and this comes with both challenges and opportunities. As an engineering student, I recognize the responsibility that is in my hands to make a better future and as a future female engineer, I have an added responsibility to the women of this field as well. I want to show future generations that just because you look a certain way in no way determines how successful you will be, it in no way changes how much of an impact you will have on a project, and it in no way makes your ideas lesser than the majority sitting around you. The proof of that truth will be the projects I am a part of throughout my career. I cannot think of a better way to do that than as a female Engineer.

Why did you join UNL Society of Women Engineers? How has it helped shape your engineering experience or empowered other women in the field?

I joined the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) for a support system of strong individuals who know the added challenges of being a woman in STEM. This group has grown my sense of belonging in the College of Engineering and has allowed me an opportunity to grow through my leadership skills. SWE has allowed me to step into who I am as a future engineer in a very authentic way. These individuals, whether it’s an exec member I have known for a long time or a new member I just met, take me as I am, encourage me to grow further, are excited about my wins, and help me still grow through difficult situations. SWE was a huge reason I wanted to represent the College of Engineering as a Senator in ASUN. Giving women in STEM a voice in student government and creating an environment where underrepresented genders feel empowered to succeed and pursue something they are interested in and excited about was an amazing opportunity to help campus and the community grow.

You’ve been involved on campus, from NSE to ASUN to SWE and more. What has being involved taught you?

Getting involved on campus has been my way to give back to the UNL community and an amazing opportunity to get to know so many individuals I might not have had the chance to even meet. In NSE, I was able to help new students find a sense of belonging at UNL during a pandemic. ASUN gave me the opportunity to advocate for women in STEM with a booth in fall of 2020 with t-shirts, buttons, and education about the STEM fields. I worked on removing the stigmatization of mental health concerns with the Green Bandana Project in spring of 2021. I spoke about SWE before. Being a part of the Husker family is all about investing in the community that has helped build you. I would not be the person I am today without the highs and lows of life or the people who have helped me through them both.

Tessa monitors data on a tablet at a waste water management facility

What do you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?

I hope to build a better tomorrow. Since high school I have always answered that question like this. What I anticipate tomorrow to look like changes every time I learn something new or grow as an individual and that’s okay. I hope to always be a lifelong learner allowing my perspectives to grow and education to continue to refine how I envision what a “better tomorrow” is. At the end of each day, I want to leave this world better than it was yesterday.

What or who inspires you?

I have been inspired by so many people. My family, none of whom are engineers, have taught me to be true to who I am. They have demonstrated that diligence and integrity provide the fuel for success and the ability to persevere when things don’t go perfectly to plan. The UNL advising professionals have given me the tools to figure out what’s next and help me determine my path to my goals. I truly enjoy what I’m studying and, for the most part, that is due to the enthusiasm and professionalism of the Professors I took classes from and whose classes I am in now. I have also been blessed with great professional mentors in the engineering internships I have had. I am currently interning at Olsson and have had the opportunity to learn so much from their Professional Engineers and they have certainly helped me know exactly the kind of engineer I want to be in the future.

What is your advice to other students looking to make an impact?

Get involved. Getting involved helped me find my own sense of belonging on campus. Going into college, someone suggested getting involved with two things, one social and one major related. It’s a good way to meet upperclassmen and people not in your field. You can change your involvement to match your time and interests over time. What you are involved with as a freshman might not be what you are doing as a senior. Keep an open mind to ideas and people. I met people I might never have run into if I had not gotten involved. Taking the time to find the organizations I am deeply passionate about has helped me find the meaning of being a Husker within myself. Be a Husker: believe in yourself, go after your goals, and leave a mark; that is how you can make an impact.

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