Adding Up to Her Dream Job -- First Generation Series (4 of 4)

If you want to be a teacher, then the University of Northern Iowa is the best school.  This is what one of Zulema Argueta’s high school teachers told her when she started to consider becoming a math teacher.  She visited the UNI campus during her sophomore year of high school and her decision was made.  Zulema loved the campus, especially the size.  It is a big university, but not too big.  It has been is the perfect fit for her.

Born near Los Angeles, Zulema moved to Ottumwa, with her family when she was three years old.  Spanish is her first language.  She learned how to speak English from watching cartoons on the television.  Her parents worked a lot but always made time for their children’s educations making sure that they got good grades and attended all parent-teacher conferences.  Her father, in particular, put much importance on education and has encouraged Zulema to pursue her dream of becoming a teacher.

Zulema’s focus on math started when her Pre-Algebra teacher noticed that the subject matter came very easy to her.  She started the process of moving her to Algebra I.  She excelled in the class and eventually received an A+.  It was at this point that she discovered that she really loved math. 

In high school, Zulema joined the Teacher Education Association, which is a club for people who wanted to become teachers.  This club gave students opportunities to shadow teachers, get out of their own classrooms and become part of the community.  Zulema loved every part of this program and her dream of becoming a math teacher began.

Zulema’s experience at UNI has been amazing so far.  Zulema raves about how supportive her professors and the number of support services available to her on campus such as the tutoring services, LSAMP (minorities in STEM), and TRIO.  She has been involved in TRIO since she was a senior in high school.  It is the support group that helped her get her college applications filled out.

Outside of the classroom, Zulema is active in a number of organizations.  She is part of the Ethnic Student Promoters whose goal is to reach out to minority students to encourage them to go to college, by way of student panels and tours.  She assists with FASFA Fridays by helping students fill out financial-aid forms.  She also works at the Academic Learning Center.  In her free time, she is part of The Movement, which is a Hip Hop Dance Team where she gets to move, have fun, and meet many new people.

Zulema is looking forward to her field experience as a student teacher.  After graduation, she plans to go straight into teaching.  She really wants to start doing what she loves: helping students.  Her advice to students considering a STEM path is to do it.  Just go for it.  It will take time and dedication.  Continue to push forward as the rewards will be worth it.Zulema Argueta, Math Education

Ginger L'Heureux, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 02-15-18

Defending Networks -- First Generation Series (3 of 4)

Cyber Defense.  Seems like something we only see in the movies or hear on the news.  Students at the University of Northern Iowa are honing their skills to combat real-life cyber attacks.  The UNI’s Cyber Defense Team came in 2nd place in the 2016 Argonne National Lab’s National Cyber Defense Competition near Chicago, Illinois.  Sheriff Jorkeh, a first generation college student, is a part of this successful team.

Sheriff is majoring Computer Science with an emphasis in Systems, which includes Networking and Systems Administration.  This is a unique program to UNI because it combines computer science and networking assistance.  It is hands on and gives students the opportunity to dive deeper into the fundamentals of computer systems.  Students who graduate with this degree can be network analysts or network engineers.

Originally from Liberia, Sheriff came to the United States to live in 2012.  He is the first member of his family to go to college.  He lives in Cedar Falls with his wife and two children, 4 and 2, while he attends UNI.

Sheriff started in the computer business when a training opportunity was presented to him after high school.  He completed training in computer service and repair and then started working in a friend’s business.  He also helped teach employees Microsoft Suite, Powerpoint, and Publisher.  Sheriff has been on the UNI campus since January of 2016 and so far his experience has been great.  He is currently the president of the Cedar Valley Linux User Group and a member of TRIO, Computer Club, and UNI’s Cyber Defense Team.  He also works at Western Home as a resident assistant.

As president of the Cedar Valley Linux User Group, Sheriff organizes meetings and looks for speakers or speaks himself on various Linux topics.  He assists in the organization of events on and off campus where the group sets up gaming on the Linux system just to have fun.  He would like to see the campus Linux group get more involved in the community and connect with Linux users off campus.

UNI 2016 Cyber Defense TeamUNI’s Cyber Defense Team’s purpose is to learn and practice responding to cyber-attacks.  During the competition at Argonne National Labs, the team was given a hypothetical situation of a simulated real-world cyber-attack scenario.  The team was given vulnerable system servers and challenged to patch them up and make them secure.  Then, during the day of the competition, professionals attack!  The team has to maintain their system servers while trying to keep or get the hackers out.  All of this has to be done without causing user problems.  It takes experience and skill to pose as a cyber attacker.  Dr. Paul Gray, a UNI professor as well as Sheriff’s advisor and mentor, is one of the professionals who has been an attacker for the competition.

With plans to graduate in December of 2018, Sheriff plans to make the most of his time at UNI and continue to enjoy his college experience.  He takes classes that build on previous classes, such as Data Structures.  He has taken classes such as Intermediate Computing using JAVA and Python programming languages as well as his favorite class to date, Networking.  After graduation, Sheriff  is off to the real world and with a degree in computer science.  His degree will allow him to work anywhere in any industry.


Ginger L'Heureux, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 02-08-18

Art Serving A Larger Purpose

Iowa Association of Energy Efficiency Scholarship Winner and UNI Interior Design Student Kimberly Wilderdyke, has plans to take her love of HGTV and art to serve a larger purpose.  Originally from Adel, Iowa, she has always really liked art.  She has been watching HGTV since she was about 7, because it interested her.  Watching HGTV started as a guilty pleasure, but has transformed into what she would like to do with her life — using her artistic talents to create impactful spaces for people to live, work, and be educated.  Interior Design is a form of art.  Kimberly will bring Interior Design into various environments to create feelings of comfort, productivity, and inspiration.

Interior Design Student Field Trip

Making the decision to come to UNI was an easy one for Kimberly.  She said that the campus was the perfect size for her, had many opportunities, and that it “felt like home right away.”  As a sophomore, Kim feels that UNI’s Interior Design department is preparing the students for their futures.  Even as freshmen, students connect with vendors and design firms.  For example, a group of fellow students went to Minneapolis last spring to visit residential and commercial firms.  It is this type of field trip that really helps the students think about the work of interior designers before getting too far into the program.

There are two sides to interior design.  The technical side and the creative side.  Kimberly finds that working with these two sides and bringing them together is interesting and challenging.  Drafting has been one of the technical courses that Kimberly found to be extremely challenging, enjoyable, and rewarding.  To complete this course, Kimberly spent quite a bit of time in the library hand drafting and creating blueprints.  “Most people do not realize how much architecture goes into interior design,” she said.  The reward came at the end of the course when Kimberly was able to take a step back, look and be proud of her well done project.  One of her classes that focuses on the creative aspect of interior design is Design Foundations.  In this class, Kimberly developed her technical knowledge and started to experiment with textures and colors.

One fun mock project that Kimberly has been able to do is to complete space planning for the Burj Khalifa.  The class was given access to the blueprints for the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world located in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  The building is unique, not only because of its height, but also because it is shaped like a flower and becomes narrower as you move upward.  Students created floorplans of the apartments.  The changing shape of the building, with no two floors are alike, makes the project like a fun jigsaw puzzle.

Kimberly came to UNI with a number of credits and was originally planning to graduate in three years.  However, she has since decided to stretch her education to four years so that she can focus on residential design in her junior year and commercial design in her senior year.  The additional time on campus will allow for her to obtain a minor and a Sustainability Certificate.  Kimberly wants to be an interior designer emphasizing in sustainability.  Sustainability Certificates are available for all students.  Requirements include taking 15 credits from a specific list of courses that span across many areas of study but all have a foundation in sustainability.

Excited about next year’s residential design focus, Kimberly is looking forward to the next couple of years on campus, in and out of the classroom.  She wants to continue to dig deeper into her design coursework and make more connections with professionals in the field.  She would like to have a head start on looking for a position so that one can be lined up prior to graduation.   Her internship, required by her major, will help meet these goals.

Kimberly was awarded one of two scholarships from the Iowa Association for Energy Effiiciency (IAEE).  The IAEE is a professional organization promoting the art and science of the efficient use of energy.  With rapidly changing technology, IAEE’s focus is to keep its members on the cutting edge.  To learn more go to

Ringing Bells for the Salvation Army

Kimberly’s desire to make an impact in the world is evident when she discussed her job on campus and involvement in student organizations.  She wants to get involved as much as she can.  Currently, she works at Hagemann Hall as a Desk Assistant.  She truly enjoys this position as it allows her to talk to people, and possibly help someone who may need comfort or support saying, “You never know what is going on in others’ lives, so it is always good to chat and hopefully brighten someone’s day.”

Three groups that have made a difference in Kimberly’s semester.  First, she attends SALT on Thursday nights on campus.  This is a church service for college students.  In conjunction with SALT, she participates in a small connect group.  One of the things her connect group did was ringing the bells for the Salvation Army in front of HyVee.  Her group went a little farther than just ringing the bells.  They sang songs, accompanied by her leader’s ukulele.  They tried to be as entertaining as possible.  The third thing is attending services at Candeo Church in Cedar Falls.  These three groups have helped Kimberly adjust and be supported in her education and life on UNI campus.

Kimberly radiates positivity when she talks about her major and her future career.  She hopes that her future will involve owning her own Interior Design business.  She looks forward to helping people create amazing, energy efficient and comfortable homes.  Kim encourages future students in STEM and Interior Design to be passionate about whatever they decide to do.  Anyone and everyone can make a positive impact in the world.   

Ginger L'Heureux, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 01-31-18