Jora Jacobi had the privilege of meeting Dr. Stephen Hawking at a Caltech event.

Jora Jacobi had the privilege of meeting Dr. Stephen Hawking at a Caltech event.

Photo courtesy of Jora Jacobi

To Jora Jacobi, the National Science Bowl® (NSB) means friendships.

"Throughout high school, I loved science and math and was involved in science extracurriculars," Jacobi says. When her school, Albuquerque Academy, announced a new science competition – the National Science Bowl® -- was starting in the state, "I and many of my Science Olympiad teammates immediately signed up to compete." Jacobi and her older sister, Jenica, with their friends, JiSan Lopez and Justin Brickell, formed a team, divided the subject areas, and prepared for the coming competition.

Jacobi's experience in MathCounts competitions in middle school helped make her very fast at solving math problems so, "on our team, I was the 'math' person," along with covering geology and astronomy.

"The (NSB) tournaments were very competitive. I remember my junior year in the final round for the state competition coming down to the final toss-up question. We ended up winning that round by only two points and earning a trip to the championship competition in Washington, D.C."

In her first time in Washington competing in the National Science Bowl finals, Jacobi's team contained three of the seven female competitors in the entire competition. That was 1998. The next year, she came back to the NSB finals as a senior and competed her last time.

After graduating from Albuquerque Academy, she was off to college at Caltech.

She had visited the campus with her dad and mailed in her acceptance letter, but it wasn't until she arrived at the pre-freshman weekend she fully realized, "I fit in with these people; they were as weird as me."

She started in the aeronautics engineering program. "I had wanted to be a rocket scientist. Then I realized how much I hated fluid dynamics," so she changed her major. Her classes in electrical engineering and an internship during her senior year gave her hands-on experiences and an enduring love of soldering.

Today Jacobi is the firmware algorithm manager at Fitbit in the San Francisco Bay area. She was the firmware lead on Fitbit's newest smartwatch project – the Ionic – that shipped last October.

"Technology is rapidly changing – each year technology becomes smaller, faster, better – saving time and space. And the technology can do so much more.

"Working in an industry that is constantly changing – new tools, new methods, new goals – you are constantly learning new processes, getting new tools to make your life easier. Most of what we produce now you could only dream about 10 years ago."

Jora Jacobi (5th from the left) volunteers annually at the National Science Bowl® Championship in Washington, D.C.

Jora Jacobi (5th from the left) volunteers annually at the National Science Bowl® Championship in Washington, D.C.

Photo courtesy of National Science Bowl®

She shares her excitement and pride in her career by volunteering with the Science Bowl events. Since 2010 Jacobi has been one of the officials at the championship competition in Washington, DC. She also makes time to volunteer with the preliminary regional science bowl in California.

She volunteers for two reasons.

"One – I have a lot of fun volunteering at the science bowl. A few weeks ago, I volunteered at the [northern California] regional middle school competitions. Even though I had read the questions and the answers before the competition, there was one team – so fast and good – that I would have lost to them. They were that fast and that good. And that team placed second! These students are the great hope for the future."

Jacobi enjoys volunteering at the regionals because "they need help; it reminds me of the science bowl rules and is a good warm-up for me for the nationals.

"My favorite part is the competition days. I like being the moderator or science judge. Other than that – helping set up the team challenges is a lot of fun. It can be overwhelming at times; it is a lot of kids. It is definitely fun to be around the kids.

"I've volunteered as an alumna at nationals every year since 2010 and have met many wonderful, passionate people through National Science Bowl®. It is fun to hang out with the other alumni who also competed themselves."

She sees the need for role models and real-life examples – her second reason for volunteering at the regional and national science bowls. "I really do want to encourage kids to enjoy science – especially girls. Even if they don't end up with careers in STEM, I want to encourage them to not be afraid of science and math.

"I can stand up and be an example in a room full of impressionable kids. I am a woman and I am an engineer. If even one kid gets the message, it was worth the trip out there."

 

Please go to Historical Information – National Finals – Profiles of Past Competitors to read more student stories about their NSB experiences.

The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science manages the National Science Bowl® and sponsors the NSB finals competition. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic 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 https://www.energy.gov/science.

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