AUSTIN, TexasJeanne Yu was a third-year electrical engineering major working as a system administrator for the Society of Women Engineers. She also was involved with high school outreach efforts through programs such as “Encounter with Engineering.”
|Photo: Marsha Miller
She knew, however, she had more to offer.
So she started SEEK.
SEEK, which stands for Student Engineers Educating Kids, is a program teaming engineering students with at-risk middle school youth for tutoring one-on-one, once a week. The volunteers, in turn, can receive academic credit for their work.
The program just completed a successful first semester, with 19 tutors helping 25 seventh- and eighth-graders at Kealing Junior High School in Austin.
Yu started the organization to fill a clear need among low-income, mainly ethnic minority youngsters of a vulnerable age. “There are so many more distractions in low- income areas, and most of the students have given up on themselves,” she said.
While serving as tutors and role models in general, SEEK participants also take the special opportunity to introduce engineering to a group who might otherwise never have considered it. Although they do it through fun activities such as physics circuses, the purpose is serious.
“Everyone recognizes the importance of education, right? Unfortunately, that’s not true,” Yu said. “It’s a message a lot of these kids aren’t getting at home.”
As the Texas-born daughter of Chinese immigrant parents who met at the University of North Texas while studying computer science, Yu got that message early and often.
Her predilection for engineering, she said, started with her mother, “showing me these fun math tricks shortcuts to get answers to math problems that were cool.” From her father whose lack of a high school diploma held him back for years she learned that “a professional degree helps to overcome racial and language barriers.”
Both parents went on to earn bachelor’s degrees and today work as computer scientists. A younger sister, now a high school junior, plans to attend medical school.
She has quick praise for fellow student Cynthia Wong, co-founder of SEEK, and Dr. David Beer, the organization’s faculty adviser. Beer described Yu as dynamic, lively, vivacious, highly intelligent and extremely efficient.
“She started this very important program, which serves a great need in the schools,” he said. “She’s a wonderful person.”
With SEEK’s new officers already in place and looking forward to the fall, Yu is ready to move on to the next stage of her life. She’s taken the LSAT, but won’t attend law school right away. Instead, she has a job lined up in the biomedical division of the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C., where she’ll work while concurrently pursuing a master’s degree in biomedical engineering.
As an examiner, she’ll review pacemakers, heart monitors and related electrically stimulating devices. And she’ll have one more big career choice ahead.
“Work in the patent office will help me determine whether I want to go into law or earn a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering,” she said.
Yu, who is social chairman of the Society for Women Engineers, received the university’s Women in Engineering Program Excellence Award for 2002.
For further information contact: Rae Nadler-Olenick, College of Engineering (512) 471-7541.