‘Every day feels like magic’ to Maxwell student Jessica Sotelo
‘Every day feels like magic’ to Maxwell student Jessica SoteloMay 06, 2002Cynthia J. Moritzcjmoritz@syr.edu
Jessica Sotelo hasn’t lined up a job for herself after she graduates this spring with a master’s in public administration from the Maxwell School. But if history is any indicator, she doesn’t need to worry. Over the past five years, she has been able to accomplish pretty much everything she has set her mind to.
When Sotelo’s son, Edward,was two years old, she split up with her husband. The marriage was somewhat abusive, she says, and “I realized this wasn’t the type of life I wanted for my son and me.” She started working in the welfare department in her home state of Idaho, but soon became frustrated with a bureaucracy that wasn’t eager to change. “I had what I thought were great ideas, but no one would listen to them,” she says.
In 1997, Sotelo decided she should go back to school. “It was a turning point for me,” she says. “I realized now was the time to change my life. There were no excuses.”
She enrolled at Idaho State College, where she says she had “a really full and rich undergraduate experience.” But at the same time, it was tough. Sotelo worked, but she and Edward still needed to move in with her parents, both to save money and to get their help with childcare. “I couldn’t have done it without them,” she says.
Sotelo changed her major several times during her freshman year, and finally realized that no one major could cover all her interests, which included anthropology, political science and health policy. So she designed her own major in American studies, concentrating in health care and political science, and graduated first in her class of 850.
During her freshman year, Sotelo’s anthropology professor invited Sotelo to get involved in a research project on access and barriers to health care for migrant workers in Idaho. She did, and that was another turning point for her. During her sophomore year, she realized that she needed to move to the next level of research. So she e-mailed one of the deans at Boston University’s School of Public Health and asked if she could get an internship for the summer.
The dean, impressed by Sotelo’s self-confidence, put her in the mix with other applicants for summer research. Next thing she knew, she was packing up her son and driving to Boston, where she spent the summer doing an internship with the School of Public Health’s Medicaid Working Group. She was the only undergraduate to get an internship.
As an older student, and a woman, Sotelo felt it was imperative to get involved in activities on campus to help other non-traditional students find their way. She got involved in a number of organizations, including the Golden Key International Honour Society.
For Golden Key, she spearheaded a project called “Little Things Make a Difference,” which collected items such as socks, hats and gloves for needy children. “Most college students don’t have a lot of money, but I knew they could afford to contribute little things,” Sotelo says. The campaign won a national award from the Points of Light Foundation and USA Today.
In her senior year, Sotelo won a Truman Scholarship, which is awarded to select students who are interested in affecting policy and pursuing careers in public service. The scholarship paid her $30,000 for graduate school, and provided activities such as a week of fellowship, community building and policy analysis in Missouri. While there, Sotelo attended a graduate school fair, at which many top-ranked graduate schools had booths. She had been determined to attend Harvard for graduate school, but once she met Christine Omolino, associate director of public administration at the Maxwell School, she reconsidered.
“I hadn’t even considered Syracuse before, but I instantly knew it would be one of my top choices,” she says. When she sat down to compare her choices for graduate school, she knew that Syracuse would be the right place both for her and for her son.
“For me, since I’ve been here, every day feels like magic,” Sotelo says of the Maxwell School. In addition to taking a full load of courses, she has worked as a research assistant to Professor of Public Administration Patricia Ingraham on a project involving public sector leadership.
Syracuse has turned out to be a good place for 11-year-old Edward, too. He spent the school year enrolled at H.W. Smith Elementary School, where he has met children from Korea, Malaysia and Brazil, among other places. “He’s learned that the world is a diverse place,” Sotelo says.
Sotelo would like to pursue a doctorate at some point, but for the time being she hopes to return to the West to work with underserved populations, such as Native Americans and immigrants, in the healthcare arena. Whatever she decides to do, her track record indicates she will probably accomplish it.