Janaee Wallace grew up snorkeling in the coral reefs surrounding her island homeland, the Bahamas. Captivated by the biodiversity of the oceans, she gravitated toward the sciences and came to St. Edward’s University to study biology and chemistry. Now, she is the first St. Edward’s graduate to participate in ESTEEM, the 11-month Engineering, Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Excellence Master’s program at the University of Notre Dame that reserves two annual spots for students from the hilltop.

Wallace ultimately hopes to return to the Bahamas and start her own science and technology research and development company — and create hands-on learning opportunities for Bahamian students along the way. Here, Wallace talks with Dean of the School of Natural Sciences Gary Morris about ESTEEM, her next steps, and how a Holy Cross education transcends disciplines, universities and geographic borders.

GM: How did St. Edward’s prepare you for ESTEEM?

JW: From an academic perspective, I did three years of ecological and behavioral research on syngnathids — pipefish, sea horses, sea dragons — with Assistant Professor of Biology Raelynn Deaton Haynes. I was a tutor and teaching assistant for freshman biology. I got two research grants and interned with the U.S. Forest Service. But my time at St. Edward’s also taught me about teamwork, finding a work-life balance, and not being afraid to talk to my professors. I developed confidence in my writing and presentation skills. I’m comfortable with not just the science aspect, but also the softer (but no less crucial) skills I need to be successful at this level.

GM: What advice would you give other Hilltoppers who are considering ESTEEM?

JW: In this master’s program, you spend 11 months learning about the business side of science, and it’s mind-blowing. If ever there were a time to take a gap year, this is it — the more traditional route of going to med school or getting a PhD can always come later. The people I have met and worked with have opened up a new world of opportunities for me. I’m learning to innovate on my feet and flexing my creative muscles. And when I finish, I’ll have a completed business plan that gets me even closer to my dream of starting a socially responsible company in a field and place I love.

GM: St. Edward’s and Notre Dame were both founded by the Congregation of Holy Cross. How has that Holy Cross connection impacted your experience?

JW: There is a focus on interfaith acceptance and social justice at Notre Dame that feels very familiar to me. The professors are welcoming and understanding, and there’s a desire among the students to be the best, but not at the detriment of each other. Just like at St. Edward’s, we’re committed to helping each other and ensuring that we’re all successful.   

GM: You will complete your master’s in May 2016. What’s next?

JW: As part of my master’s thesis, I’m already in talks with people in the Bahamas who might partner with me. I plan to go into research or consulting after I graduate so I can keep my skills sharp while I secure seed capital. I deferred entry into a doctoral program in marine sciences to participate in ESTEEM, so I may go ahead with that. But leading a sustainable aquaponics venture in the Bahamas is where my heart is — I’ll keep working toward that goal no matter what or where it takes me.     

GM: It sounds like returning to the Bahamas is a crucial part of your future plans.

JW: I’ve seen firsthand the differences in STEM education in the United States and Caribbean nations like the Bahamas. I had to work a little harder at the college level because the Bahamas simply didn’t have the same classes, teachers and resources to prepare me for a challenging science curriculum. I want to change that by involving Bahamian kids in my research and my company. I’m envisioning it as an innovation laboratory where they can develop their STEM skills and talents by getting their hands wet, literally! Then, when they come to compete and collaborate with the best, they will be able to hold their own.

Education Extended

Students in the School of Natural Sciences at St. Edward’s have multiple ways to propel their undergraduate work at St. Edward’s into additional degrees with university partners:

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