International student finds connection, purpose at UHCL

December 13, 2018 | Katherine Adams

International student finds connection, purpose at UHCL

For three years, Johanna Jacob worked overnights at her job consulting with the Disney Consortium in India. She knew she was not fulfilling her purpose in that job, and she knew there had to be more to life. Her first time on an airplane was a trip across the world to begin her master’s program in computer science at University of Houston-Clear Lake and along the way, she found out that indeed, there is more to life. As she graduates on Dec. 16, Jacob, 27, feels she’s getting much more than a diploma.

“Before, I felt like I was just earning a check,” she said. “I had to take that job because my family was struggling, but I wanted to pursue higher education in the U.S. It was always a big dream of mine to study here. I began my quest to find a university, and I applied at several places, but UH-Clear Lake was the first to admit me.”

She’d done a great deal of research, Jacob said, and found that UHCL had a great record of diversity in their graduate programs. “I connected with peers who were already here and got a lot of great feedback about the university. I knew I had made a good decision,” she said. “It was everything I expected.”

Now, Jacob says her goals have changed. “I have found my ultimate passion, which is research and teaching,” she said. “I grabbed every opportunity I could here to contribute to that. I am well prepared to begin the next season of my life.”

One of those opportunities, Jacob said, was joining the Texas State Teachers Association. “That’s where I met (Professor of Instructional Design and Technology) Jana Willis. I went to a meeting and happened to sit next to her,” she said. “Dr. Willis is the kind of person who always is full of information and inspiration. She told me she needed technology instructors at KidsU, which is a summer camp program for children. So I got a job in the summer of 2017 as a co-instructor, and became a primary instructor last summer.”

It was that chance meeting that led Jacob to discover what she wanted to do in life. “The opportunities fell into my life to confirm that what I need to do is give back to the academic community,” she said. “By getting my doctorate someday, I will do that. There are so many initiatives for education here at UHCL, and one chance meeting with Dr. Willis led me to that great opportunity at Kids U, and I am so thankful.”

“In our roles as teacher educators we at times encounter individuals who have a passion for teaching and working with others to help them grow academically,” Willis said.  “For these individuals, teaching seems to be almost instinctive. I knew within a few minutes of speaking with Johanna that she had that passion, and after watching her work with students of all ages in KidsU I also knew she had that instinct. I often told her she was a ‘natural’ in the classroom and that there was a classroom somewhere that had her name on it.” 

Currently, Jacob works as a research assistant on a grant funded through the National Science Foundation for revamping the traditional Computer Science program to meet modern day cyber

security education challenges. She has also served as a student ambassador for the College of Computer Science and Engineering, and enjoyed interacting with prospective students about their opportunities at UHCL.

After graduating, Jacob hopes to begin a doctoral program in computer science. “I would like to stay in Texas for sure. I’m considering University of Texas at San Antonio. They have a cyber security program that is in collaboration with the Department of Defense, and that is the area of my interest.”

Jacob will be speaking to her fellow graduates at commencement. “I was at the commencement of a friend of mine last year, and it was so awesome,” she said. “I thought it would be interesting if an international student would witness about their experience at UHCL, so I expressed a desire to share my story.”

She said that at UHCL, she “discovered herself. This is where it’s been most conducive for me to grow and improve myself,” she said. “I would love to come back here and teach someday.”

For more information about international student admission, visit www.uhcl.edu/admissions/apply/international. For more information about UHCL’s Master of Science in Computer Science program, visit www.uhcl.edu/academics/degrees/computer-science-ms.