Hard Work & Lots of Play -- First Generation Series (2 of 4)

Joseph Espinosa, All-Science Education Major and First Generation  College Student.Job Shadowing his science teacher as a high school freshman changed Joseph Espinosa’s path for his future.  He witnessed his teacher, at Bishop-Garrigan High School in Algona, helping students learn and loving teaching.  Joseph‘s teacher influenced how he wants to live his own life—helping others and enjoying what interests him.  It was this point that Joseph decided that he wanted to become a science teacher.  Joseph is the youngest child of his family and the only one who has gone to college. 

As a high school senior, a friend convinced Joseph to come to Cedar Falls to visit the UNI campus.  He found that he loved the atmosphere and the smaller campus.  Joseph is now in his sophomore year as an All-Science Education major.  Living in a residence hall on campus, Hagemann Hall, has also been an integral part of his life on campus.  His experience so far has been difficult at times, because some of the classes are challenging, but he keeps working at it and will not be deterred from his goals.  

Chemistry courses are his favorite courses overall.  Joseph truly enjoyed the hands on experiments of the General Chemistry courses,  especially when having to use math for the quantitative portion of the experiments.  One of the interesting projects he has had in his coursework was in his Organismal Diversity Biology course.  Groups (plants) had to design the most disgusting seed possible using items such as candy, hot sauce and tape so that the plant eaters would not want to eat it.  Next, the plants “dispersed” their seeds by throwing them or dropping them, just like a plant would.  Then the plant eaters had a limited amount of time to find all the seeds.  Joseph’s team won because no one found one of their seeds.

Joseph works at the Piazza and has some fun outside of the classroom.  You may find him working in the Sizzle or Wok areas of the dining hall.  He is part of the Northern Iowa Gaming Collective Board Games who meets every Thursday night in the Library.   Joseph is a part of the Panther Table Top Club, who play card games and other board games.  He is also a lower executive member of the Panther eSports as the Hagemann Hall coordinator.  As coordinator, he works with other hall coordinators to organize the Inter-Dorm competition.  Panther eSports also organizes and hosts the UNICON event on campus every November (

Getting the most out of your college experience is important to Joseph, which is why he would like to become part of the residence hall staff.  Just like in the classroom, Joseph wants to help incoming students adjust to college life and grow their leadership opportunities.  He has observed that many students stay in their rooms and he wants to encourage participation on campus.  For students interested in STEM majors, he says, “It is going to be difficult, but don’t let that deter you.  Just keep working hard.  Talk to your teachers.  Talk to your professors.  They will help you if you need help.”  After he graduates, Joseph would like to teach in the Algona area and save up to see Ireland and Spain.

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

Making Her Own Path -- First Generation Series (1 of 4)

Graduation will be here soon.  Biology and Environmental Health senior, Ameera Tahir, wants to make the most of the time she has left on campus.  She would like to see herself get more involved, go to more sporting events, and join a club.  But finding the time to do all these things is difficult.  After graduation, Ameera hopes to work for the local or state health department.  She would like to work one or two years before pursuing a Master’s Degree.

Science has always been an interest of Ameera’s.  Her dad was the driving force for her to pursue education in human health, in hopes that she would go on to med school and become a doctor.  She took part in a summer program at Allen hospital to see if the medical field was a good fit, but could not see herself in a hospital setting.  However, her interest in how the body works has kept her on the path to help people have healthier lives.  That is why she is seeking a Biology and Environmental Health degree. 


Ameera Tahir, UNI Environmental Health & Biology Major

Originally from Pakistan, Ameera came to the United States eight years ago.  She attended Waterloo West High School and knew she wanted to stay close to home and her family, especially after her father passed away.  The University of Northern Iowa has become her second home these past few years.   Ameera has loved her time on campus as an undergraduate.  She stated that the professors have been great, class sizes are not too big, and that there are so many resources available to students.

Ameera’s favorite courses at UNI have been Anatomy and Entomology.  The SynDaver Lab has helped her understand the body.  Her entomology class project took her to the prairie to see the different insects and understand how the environment, such as the temperature, time of day, etc., affects which bugs were active.  She has also enjoyed ethics courses, especially when it comes to environmental health and how we, as a people, can communicate about climate change and make changes in our own lives to minimize our environmental impact.  “We need to do our part,” she says.

When not in the classroom, Ameera stays busy with her studies.  She is an academic coach at the College Reading and Learning Center and works part time at Younkers.  She also enjoys volunteering at the Northeast Iowa Food Bank.  Ameera’s advice to students going into STEM is that there are so many more opportunities for your life if you come to college.  For students already enrolled, go to class and get involved in the various discussions.  Learn about others’ perspectives.  There are more experiences for students who live on campus too. 

Ginger L'Heureux, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 01-11-18

Pulling to Success

You may have run across tractor pulls at county fairs.  To make those tractors do what they do requires much time, design changes, tinkering and money.  The American Society of Biological and Agricultural Engineers (ASABE) Quarter-Scale Tractor Student Design Competition is an international contest for college students.  Students from the United States, Canada, and as far away as Israel have competed to show that they have the best design, not only on paper, but on the track as well. 

Presenting the Tractor RequirementsThe UNI Panther Pullers team consists of about 16 students.  Most are Manufacturing Engineering Technology majors.  There are a few other majors represented including Accounting and Education.  The almost 100% Iowa-Native team has students ranging from freshman to senior.  Put this all together and you have a diverse group of students with similar interests and one goal – to build a machine of power and agility.

Quarter-Scale teams are provided with a 31 HP Briggs and Stratton engine and a set of tires.  The rest is up to their ideas and ingenuity.  They must design and build a complete tractor.  The design must be kept within the set parameters such as weight and length.  The tractor must be on the road in late May to Peoria, Illinois for the 2018 competition set for May 31 to June 3.  

The teams are evaluated by judges in three areas.  First a detailed report showcases the innovation, manufacturing ability, serviceability, safety, sound level, and ergonomics of the tractor. NextPanther Pullers Design Meeting the team gives a formal presentation to industry experts.  Finally, the fun part.  The tractor must pull a weighted sled three times down the track, complete a maneuverability course and finish a durability course.  The team with the most cumulative points, wins the competition. 

2017 marked this event’s 20th year.  But this is the first year that UNI students have decided to pull together a team and build one of their own. Starting from scratch and competing against seasoned pros such as previous champions Purdue, Nebraska and Kansas State can be daunting.  This will be no easy task for these Panthers but they are up for the challenge.

Building the TractorFor the Panther Pullers the year-long project goes beyond planning, designing and building.  The team also has to fundraise to acquire the necessary parts, such as brakes and a steering wheel.  The team has a fundraising goal of about $10,000 to cover costs of parts, tools, and travel expenses. In kind donations and professionals willing to provide some are always welcome.  Follow the team’s progress on their Facebook page (


Ginger L'Heureux, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 12-07-17