Champions in Science: Profile of Jenica Jacobi

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Albuquerque Managing City Attorney Jenica Jacobi is a volunteer and a former competitor at the National Science Bowl®.

Photo courtesy of Jenica Jacobi

Albuquerque Managing City Attorney Jenica Jacobi is a volunteer and a former competitor at the National Science Bowl®.

“I had gone to schools where it wasn’t cool or even acceptable to do your homework,” recalls Jenica Jacobi. Her dad was in the U.S. Air Force, which meant a lot of moves and a lot of new schools. Then, in her freshman year, everything changed. Jacobi started at Albuquerque Academy, a private school that encouraged its students to pursue intellectual challenges. “I loved my experience there. It was a place where learning was valued,” she says “and it was fun.”

Albuquerque Academy offered a wide variety of classes: European history, different languages, genetics, anatomy, biochemistry, and extracurricular activities: sports, drama, music, debate groups. And, in Jacobi’s senior year, the Academy offered students a new opportunity – a chance to form teams and compete in the 1998 National Science Bowl® (NSB).

She formed a team with her best friend, JiSan Lopez, and looked for students who would complement their skills. She recruited her sister, Jora, and her friends, Justin Brickell and Alexis Grant.

Even in high school, her talent for planning and managing was already evident; Jacobi was chosen the team captain. “Our team members balanced out the subject areas so we would be competitive in all the different areas. We divided up topics, focused, and studied,” says Jacobi. “I was always really proud of our performance in terms of assigning and covering all of the different subjects.”

When the regional competition began, the Academy had five teams ready to rumble. One team – all boys – was very competitive and very sure of their ability to beat their schoolmates and reign as the Academy’s ultimate representatives.

Jacobi’s team advanced undefeated through the preliminary rounds, winning their way to the final match where they faced their most formidable rivals – the Academy all boys team.

“The boys team had lost one match in an earlier round,” Jacobi says. “Then in our first head-to-head match, we lost. So each team had one loss.” There was one more round – winner-take-all – to determine the regional champions who would travel to Washington and compete in the national event. “Our team won the round.”

Jacobi had flown before, even been to Washington, D.C. before, but this trip was different. “We were very excited to have won the competition and were all a little giddy to go there. It did feel like one of our first independent trips – going with a small group of friends and Kay Lucas, the teacher we selected,” Jacobi recalls.

Jacobi and her teammates stood out. “When we got to Nationals, in that crowd of students, there were maybe seven girls [on 48 teams]. And we had three girls. I thought that was awesome – that we were 75% of the female competitors. [Ed: It would be another nine years before the first all-girls team competed at the NSBExternal link].

“We didn’t go there thinking that we could take the nationals. It was our first year; we didn’t feel any pressure. Just going to the nationals was enough. But as we started playing, we were doing well, able to keep up.

“We were working well as a team. We were not competitive with each other; we were in it to have fun and to do as well as we could.”

In the round robin, “we were neck-to-neck in a match with the team that eventually took third place,” says Jacobi. “When we lost to Ft. Collins, we all felt some disappointment but we were having so much fun – making friends with different teams.”

Jacobi continues to make new friends by volunteering with the National Science Bowl. “It’s a small world and you meet wonderful people. I made some friends through competing and more through volunteering,” she says. “I cannot tell you how meaningful the friendships are – I‘ve been doing it since 2006. We have a group of seven who are really tight, we talk throughout the year. We got together by showing up at Science Bowl, loving science, wanting to give back to the community. I adore working with likeminded volunteers in this area.”

Remembering her high school adventures in the NSB, Jacobi says “I was very grateful for that experience. We were definitely not expected to win the regionals – if you had asked classmates to rank our team and who they thought would win the competition, we were definitely not the first, even second, probably third. So I learned to not be governed by others’ expectations of yourself.”

Today Jacobi is a lawyer, a Managing City Attorney for the City of Albuquerque; she manages the municipal and real estate division, overseeing 14 attorneys dealing with general counsel, transactions, and miscellaneous litigation.

“I think it (NSB) reinforced the idea that if you wanted to do something – plan it well, thoughtfully, participate and give it your best – there are no barriers. It doesn’t matter what other people think of you, if you want to do it. Give it your all.”

The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic energy research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information please visit http://science.energy.gov.

Sandra Allen McLean is a Communications Specialist in the Office of Science, sandra.mclean@science.doe.gov.