When deciding which college to attend, Jessica Christiansen wanted to experience something new. Traveling 330 miles from her home in Somonauk, Ill., to Menomonie for a tour of UW-Stout, her first steps on campus felt like a home away from home.
She saw how the student-to-professor ratios were low, the tuition was affordable and the endless number of organizations she could join.
“I knew this was the one. I loved every aspect of Stout and ultimately chose to attend here within a month of visiting,” Christiansen said.
Christiansen will graduate early, in just 3½ years. As commencement approaches on Saturday, Dec. 18, she reflected on her college career. She also is looking forward to starting her career in January after accepting a full-time position with Target.
“My education and experiences here at Stout have meant the world to me,” she said. “I had high expectations for what my college experience would look like, and Stout exceeded all of them.”
Bringing joy to others
From a young age, Christiansen’s parents instilled in her their belief that college would set her up on a better path in life than what they started with, she said. After passing their General Educational Development tests, her parents Robert and Martha went straight into the workforce and started building their family.
“I’m very fortunate for my parents because they’ve given me the world, and I will never know how to repay them,” she said. “I want to build a successful career for myself to hopefully give back to them for everything they’ve given me.”
Her biggest challenge at first was learning how to be alone at a new school, with new people, away from family. But when she realized her family would always be there and she met others on campus that she could rely on, she found herself working harder.
Christiansen is proud to graduate early, especially after switching her major three times. “Conquering this challenge was very hard, but I’m most proud that I never gave up,” she said. “A college education is an amazing accomplishment, and I owe it to everyone who supported me throughout my time here.”
She originally wanted to be a physician’s assistant, so she entered the applied science program and then health, wellness and fitness. But she struggled financially and thinking about graduate school was overwhelming.
She switched her major a third time to business administration.
“I knew I could still work in health care if I wanted to and that excited me,” she said. “I hope to ultimately help people in any way that I can, and this was the best route for me personally.”
Christiansen chose business administration after she started working in retail and saw how involved she could be in people’s lives.
“I admire the joy that comes from making someone’s day. I’d like to say that I am a people person and always love the idea of making others happy,” she said. “I was still unsure which career route I wanted to take when I entered the major but knew I had countless opportunities in the workforce.”
Christiansen’s favorite part about the program though was her professors and advisers. “I had some of the best professors I could ever imagine helping me succeed all throughout my college education,” she said. “The people here at Stout are caring, considerate and genuine.”
Christiansen’s adviser, Assistant Professor Jon Sylte, understands the challenges she faced and is proud she is graduating early. “Jessica is hardworking and determined,” he said.
“Her work ethic and ability to communicate with others ensures she will have a bright future. She exemplifies everything we want in a Stout student.”
Her classes were all hands-on, with examples of real-life experiences in business to enhance her communication, time management and people skills. The program also held informative meetings about careers and career conferences where she could practice her interview skills and network with professionals.
Having such a broad major, Christiansen knew she wanted a minor that correlated with her interests and future career. She earned minors in economics and investment and finance.
“Numbers come very easy to me,” she said. “I think my minors make me more well-rounded professionally and overall will help me succeed in whatever path I take.”
A delicate balance in an active schedule
It was challenging for Christiansen to balance all of her activities. She played as an outfielder for UW-Stout Blue Devils softball. Although the 2020 season was canceled because of COVID, she played in 35 games in 2019 and 21 games in 2021. Her fielding average was .971.
"I had an amazing three years with all my teammates. I absolutely loved playing and would recommend to anyone to join an athletic team here at Stout," she said.
An honors student, she did well in her classes while working part time and serving as a peer mentor, helping new students through their first year in college.
She was a Multicultural Student Services scholarship recipient and attended MSS events, where she learned lessons she could apply in her life. She became close with her mentor, MSS Director Mai Khou Xiong, who taught her about life after college and gave her all the help she ever asked for, Christiansen said.
“Through all of my activities, I learned that taking time to relax for myself was something I needed, whether it was for 10 minutes or an entire day,” she said. “Having the self-awareness of when you need a break is crucial for success.”
To relax, her favorite activity at UW-Stout was Bingo, and other Involvement Center events, like movie nights, where she could hang out with friends, meet new people and have a night away from homework.
Xiong is proud of Christiansen’s achievements and knows she will be successful in her endeavors. “Jessica is an outstanding scholar and student leader. She approaches every situation with a positive attitude and open mind,” Xiong said.
“Jessica is personable, self-directed, value-driven, reflective and a critical thinker. She asks questions, seeks to understand multiple perspectives, and actively engages in discussions and conversations,” she added.
Hired before graduation
Christiansen interned for eight weeks as a store executive intern for Target, back home in Illinois. She learned about every department of the store to prepare for a role as an executive team lead. At the end of her internship, she understood how to manage each department successfully.
She was hired before graduation as an executive team lead at the same Target location, managing a department team and “bringing joy to guests.” She’ll start her new job in January.
Her ultimate goal is to someday open her own business. “I want to do something that would bring people happiness, whether it’s a service, experience or selling a specific item,” she said. “I think the idea will come to me one day. I always dabble in new experiences and will hopefully find something that will spark joy.”
Christiansen is thankful for everyone who helped her at UW-Stout and feels prepared for life after college.
“This education has strengthened so many of my characteristics,” she said. “I have learned so much about understanding people, being a caring leader, a great teammate, being disciplined and having perseverance.
“It’s been such a thrilling ride, and I am so glad I decided to come to this school. I’m more than ready for the future and delighted to see what is in store for me.”