After completing four years of service in the U.S. Navy — a term which included two deployments aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom — Jessica Howell BA’19 returned home to Dallas to begin a family and consider her career options.
Completing her college education was a top priority for Howell, but she was also driven to find professional opportunities that would allow her to continue helping others. Howell’s search led her to UT Dallas’ School of Interdisciplinary Studies, where she would earn a degree in economics, policy and politics.
“I very distinctly remember this moment sitting in my living room and asking myself, ‘What should I do with my life?’” Howell said. “I wanted to do something that would help people and I wanted to have a career that could set an example for my kids. That’s how I found UT Dallas.”
While enrolled at the University, Howell was able to volunteer with a number of campus groups and nonprofit organizations like the Military and Veteran Center, Down Syndrome Convention, Girls Inc. Dallas and Equest.
She was also selected as the University’s second Texas Instruments Founders Leadership Fellow. Coordinated by the Office of Development and Alumni Relations, each year this fellowship supports a promising undergraduate, graduate student or recent graduate who wishes to pursue a career in the nonprofit sector. Fellows are mentored by University staff and gain experience in all facets of nonprofit fundraising, community engagement and relationship building.
After the last months of her fellowship were cut short by COVID-19, Howell went to work with Rep. Colin Allred of Texas’ 32nd Congressional District. As a constituent advocate in the congressman’s office, Howell helps community members with a wide array of issues, including managing green card and passport applications, Veterans Affairs cases, and paycheck and mail problems. The pandemic compelled more people than ever to seek help from their local representatives, and Howell has been busy resolving stimulus check payments and assisting constituents with finding housing and childcare.
“There is such a wide range of casework, but it is so rewarding because it has opened me up to so many ways to help people,” Howell said. “Even though they are such small things that I am doing, they are so impactful for our constituents.”
Howell plans to move back to the world of education soon, where she will work with Teach for America in Dallas ISD. Looking forward to this opportunity and reflecting on her role in local government, Howell recognizes the continuing benefits of her experiences at UT Dallas and in local government.
“When I started working for Congressman Allred, I really began to understand how UT Dallas and other local institutions really work closely with government to help people,” Howell said. “The pipeline I’ve built from the fellowship, to congress and now back to education has given me an understanding of the connections between agencies and how to find the support you need to solve any issue. Going back into the classroom with students who may have needs that I have not experienced, I’ll know how to educate myself so I can serve them and my community better.”