May 16, 2019 3:59 pm
Mary Jacobsen knows how to compete hard and have fun doing it. The former Pierce College Running Start student earned a three-year athletics scholarship to Oregon State University (OSU), where she competed on the nationally ranked women’s gymnastics team.
Jacobsen, 23, will graduate from OSU this June and move on to a coveted job as a software engineer with Google in Seattle. But for now, Jacobsen is celebrating OSU’s recent sixth place finish in the NCAA women’s gymnastics championships in late April, marking her final season with the team.
“The NCAA championship was a really fun experience,” she says, “It feels good to end my gymnastics career on a high note.”
Growing up in Puyallup, Jacobsen participated in gymnastics beginning at age 10 at local Ys.
“I always loved gymnastics, not like I was training for the Olympics, but I love the sport,” she says.
Homeschooled, Jacobsen attended Running Start at Pierce College Puyallup, earning her associate of arts degree in spring 2015. Her mother, Cynthia Jacobsen, currently teaches mathematics at Pierce College Puyallup. Five of her six siblings also graduated from Pierce College.
“I had no idea what it would be like after being home schooled to go to school every day, to take classes and tests,” Jacobsen says. “I was kind of scared.”
But thanks to supportive teachers, and getting to take a class or two with sisters, Jacobsen soon felt right at home.
“The teachers made the difference,” she says. “I felt the teachers truly cared about the students. During my first quarter, I took a college algebra class. The teacher made it easy to understand and helped build my confidence.”
When Jacobsen got to OSU (her “dream school for gymnastics”), she quickly realized that her community college education gave her a competitive edge.
“Pierce College gave me an academic advantage over other students at OSU who hadn’t gone to community college first,” Jacobsen says. “I was well prepared because I had a really good foundation in college math and writing.”
At OSU, Jacobsen has successfully balanced full-time coursework with year-round gymnastics training, earning academic honors along the way. She describes herself as both “hardworking and fun,” traits that have helped her in sports, academics and life overall.
“I love working hard to learn new skills and routines in gymnastics and to perfect skills and routines I already have,” she says. “In college, I have loved getting to do that as a team."
Jacobsen applied that same drive and enthusiasm to earning her degree in computer science and then applying for jobs with high-tech companies.
“I was introduced to programming in college,” Jacobsen says. “When I started learning how to code, I felt like so much had opened up to me that I had no idea even existed, and there was so much I could do with it. I really enjoy programming and am thankful I get to do something that's fun and challenging.”
A few months ago, Jacobsen began her systematic job search.
“I applied to as many companies as I could,” she says. “I heard that many companies follow a similar model to Google in their hiring interviews. So I figured I would apply to Google and if nothing else, it would be good practice."
As it turns out, Google hired Jacobsen into its competitive Engineering Residency program, which recruits promising college graduates. She will start work in Seattle in September 2019.
So what advice does Jacobsen have for other students?
“Be willing to try things to find what you like even if you don't think you are capable, because if you really enjoy something, it will be easier to work hard to learn it and get better,” she says. “Don't be afraid of failing. Goals are great but they aren't always going to work out, so keep putting in the effort for things you enjoy anyway.”