Alumni Spotlight: Jackie Wheeler, ’13

Jackie Wheeler, ’13

Congratulations to UWT alum Jackie Wheeler on her acceptance to the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration at George Washington University! 

Since graduating from the Politics, Philosophy & Economics program in 2013, Jackie has worked as a Program Specialist with the Office of the Secretary of State, Elections Division, in Olympia, WA. She also interned for the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. while still an undergraduate. Now returning to the D.C. for her Master’s, Jackie reflects on how UW Tacoma helped her along her path to a career she feels passionate about.

When she moved to Washington from North Carolina, Jackie originally intended to attend UW Seattle, but unexpectedly fell in love with UW Tacoma instead. “I love the small class sizes, the prestigious faculty, and the feeling of community that you get when being on campus,” she says. “I have many fond memories at UWT. I know that the friends I made while at UW Tacoma will be my friends for life.” 

As a student, Jackie enjoyed the challenge of UWT’s academic programming. “UW Tacoma equipped me with the writing and research skills that have not only helped me in my current position with the Secretary of State’s Office, but has also prepared me for my graduate program,” she says. “The professors at UW Tacoma taught me to ask questions and to think about problems critically in order to provide data-driven solutions….  I feel much more prepared going into graduate school this fall because of the ethical, analytical, and logical reasoning skills that UW Tacoma helped me develop.”

When asked about faculty that had a particular impact on her, Jackie speaks warmly of PPPA’s Dr. Charles Williams. “I took multiple classes with him at UWT and each one challenged me to be a better writer and researcher, and to think more critically. His challenging coursework and constructive feedback allowed me to experience more and more growth with each class that I took with him. He is also very invested in helping his students succeed academically and professionally.”

A major highlight for Jackie was getting her internship in the U.S. State Department in Washington D.C. “My internship was one of the best experiences of my academic career. I learned so much about foreign policy, interagency cooperation, defense planning and so much more within a short period of time. I also made some great contacts. If the professors at UWT had not encouraged me, I probably wouldn’t have applied and gotten the internship. It is because of that decision that I learned that I eventually want to go back to D.C. either to work or for grad school, which I am doing now! This is just another way that my short time at UWT has influenced all of the major academic and professional decisions I’ve made up to this point.”

Even with those exciting opportunities, Jackie knows what it’s like to face hurdles in your professional ambitions: “When I graduated from UWT in 2013, my plan was to find a job within the federal government since that was what my background was in. I had it all planned out since my junior year at UWT…. For those that don’t remember, the federal government shut down during Fall 2013 for a few weeks. So, they definitely weren’t hiring. For someone like me who likes to have everything planned, this was a serious blow and I grew discouraged…. Eventually I was hired as a receptionist at the Office of the Secretary of State, but have since worked my way up within the agency to a Program Specialist. I didn’t get the dream job that I expected right out college. I learned to be humble, take whatever opportunities I could get to grow and learn within my industry, and work with passion and dedication to prove what I was capable of.”

Finally, when asked what advice she’d give current students, Jackie warns them that their time at UWT will fly by. “[G]et involved in campus as much as you can. Talk to your professors. Ask them questions. Ask for advice. Participate in an internship if you are able…. Always attend class. Look for employment opportunities on campus…. Oh, and always back up your documents!” For students transitioning out of school and into the workforce, Jackie adds, “[Don’t] be afraid to ask questions. I know sometimes when we start new jobs, fresh out of college, we want to impress our new employer. In college, if we were embarrassed to ask a question in front of the class, you could just want until someone else asked the question. That might not happen in the workforce. Every employer I’ve had has appreciated employees that are willing to learn and ask questions.”

“Also, just because you didn’t land your dream job right out of college, don’t get discouraged. Don’t feel like you have failed. Don’t give up or feel like you’re wasting your degree. It’s not a failure, just a step. It’s not a setback, but a potential opportunity. Just keep working hard, keep learning, and keep growing. It will all make you a better leader in the future.”

Words to live by. Thanks for talking with us, Jackie, and best of luck in your new venture!