Student Research Still Paying Dividends for Olsson’s Jena Wilson

Mark Derowitsch, Communications

June 17, 2021

While she was at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Jena Wilson took a part-time job as a student researcher with the School of Natural Resources. The goal of the research was to uncover how educators could get students more involved in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects throughout college.

The job had nothing to do with Jena’s studies or planned career – she was a biological systems engineering major at UNL and now is an assistant engineer on Olsson’s Nebraska Water Resources team. But her part-time job keeps paying off in big ways.

A major part of Jena’s college gig was analyzing data compiled by associate professor Dr. Jenny Dauer, who teaches science literacy. The educator sought to get students more involved with STEM subjects.   

But the project soon turned into something bigger. What started out as a way to improve one class at UNL turned into something that could affect students throughout the country. The team’s findings were recently published by the Frontiers in Education journal in an article titled, Students’ Civic Engagement Self-Efficacy Varies Across Socioscientific Issues Contexts. The Frontiers in Education journal provides an international, scholarly forum for discussion of research-based approaches to education.

Jena is one of three authors of the article.  

“I got a call to let me know I was a published author,” Jena said. “How cool is that?”

Way cool. But it’s also pretty awesome that students around the world will benefit from Jena’s work.

When students are interested in STEM, they are better equipped to analyze information and become more aware about situations that affect people and the environment, Jena says.

“Teaching students science literacy gives them the tools to sift through articles and information and helps them decipher the scientific information and sort out what is fact and what is opinion,” she said. “Learning how to decipher scientific information can seem scary, but students who can make sense of science-based articles are more inclined to participate in a STEM field.”

The lessons learned while compiling and analyzing data as a student researcher has paid dividends for Jena during her time at Olsson. She graduated from UNL in 2019 before joining the firm.

Jena’s duties at Olsson include hydraulic and hydrologic analyses, writing technical reports, and giving clients and stakeholders updates on their projects. These skills were honed while working on her research project at UNL.

“Research helped teach me to analyze scientific data, which I do every day now,” Jena said. “I learned a lot about technical writing when I was writing up the analysis for the research project. To be honest, I think it gave me a step-up in that area. I had to present the research, so it really gave me confidence in public speaking. It was a great experience.”

Share this story: