Jessica Wawra (Kesselring)

Jessica Wawra
Photo by David Schmitz

President’s Scholar

Major: Creative Arts
College of Humanities and the Arts

Why did you choose your major?

I found the Creative Arts program by chance, actually. I was a transfer to San José State, fresh out of the Applied Music program at a community college in the Los Angeles area. I was interested in continuing a music degree; however, the day I perused the SJSU majors online was the day that changed my life. I was hooked when I read how the Creative Arts program placed “emphasis on the interdisciplinary exploration of the arts, the creative process, creativity and creative leadership, and the relevance of the arts to different societies and cultures.” Soon enough, I was learning about the creative process, making a documentary that highlights gentrification in San José, designing board games and digital games, and learning how art is at the heart of social change. What an incredible experience! 

What does receiving this particular award mean to you?

This award means that I have found the strength within myself to break the barriers I thought weren’t possible. The award offers validation that the ‘zany’ aspects within me can couple with serious scholarly research to create real social change and challenge the hegemonic narrative. 

Who has had the greatest influence or impact on your life?  In addition, tell us about a SJSU faculty member who contributed to your academic success.

There are so many people I could thank for influencing my life. I think one of the most important lessons we walk away with in the Creative Arts program is that community and collaboration are vitally important to any individual success we might have. I especially appreciate the strong women in my life. They have helped me to find my own voice. At San José State, Dr. Shannon Rose Riley has always believed in my vision from day one and she continually challenges me to forge ahead and reach out beyond what I think is possible.   

Describe an experience that has shaped who you are today.

I was born with a congenital condition called microtia-atresia, which means I was born without a right ear. I am deaf on that side, too. I think figuring out how to navigate the world being “half-deaf” offers a unique social context that shaped my identity. It doesn’t define me, necessarily, but I suppose I’ve always broken what it means to be deaf in our society. There are so many people who don’t realize that deafness can coincide with a passion for art, music, and academic performance. 

What would you say to other students to encourage or inspire them to attain academic excellence?

Don’t give up! A failed grade does not make you a failure. I know it’s easier said than done, but proving it to yourself— not just to friends, family, professors— is one of the most empowering experiences you could ever have. Failing, actually, is a large part of finding your strength so that you can transfer that energy out into the world. Try to challenge your professors. They love it, and you will be wholly engaged in the subject. Embrace the uncomfortable: it’s the only way you will learn and grow. 

What makes you a Spartan?

Being a Spartan, in my mind, means to engage and elevate the lives of those around you. I’m reminded of this lesson every day as I walk by Judith Baca’s César Chávez Monument, “Arch of Dignity, Equality, and Justice,” and Rigo 23’s installation, “Victory Salute,” which features Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Both monuments represent enormous sacrifice and a commitment to community.


Nominated by Shannon Rose-Riley
Professor, Humanities Department

“Jessica Wawra is a hearing-impaired student who was once identified as an “at risk youth.” In Fall 2015, Jessica came to SJSU, initially as a music composition major and subsequently as a major in Creative Arts. During her short time here, Jessica has developed a growing awareness of the importance of arts for social change and is currently creating a senior thesis project in feminist game criticism which applies theories of gender performativity and intersectionality in studying digital game scenarios. She is currently looking at graduate programs like the History of Consciousness PhD at UC Santa Cruz as well as at programs in curatorial practice and arts for social justice.”