Jenna Hernandez

Jenna Hernandez
Jenna Hernandez

Jenna Hernandez had a key job in UAF’s student steel bridge competition this past winter: backup parts runner.

Hernandez, a first-year civil engineering student, passed steel pieces to team members on opposite sides of an imaginary river. She had to run, literally.

“Oh yeah, because you want to be as fast as you can without stepping in the no-stepping zone,” she said.

Hernandez’s interest in engineering was sparked by a teacher at Monroe Catholic High School in Fairbanks, where she graduated during the coronavirus “trash fire year,” as she called it.

Hernandez said the teacher showed her the joy of “understanding how things work and how to make things work,” she said. “That just seemed totally awesome to me.”

The first-generation college student found UAF a natural next step not just because it was close to home in uncertain times but also because financial aid was plentiful.

“There’s a lot of scholarships that the UA Foundation has for UAF specifically, like the Nanook Pledge. And even just regular state scholarships, like the Alaska Performance Scholarship and Top Scholar. Those really helped a lot,” she said. “So I was like, wow, having pretty much free college sounds fantastic — especially as an engineering major with all the labs and extra credits.”

UAF’s new Engineering Learning and Innovation Facility sealed the deal for her.

“ELIF is so pretty, all the windows and the high bay — love it,” she said.