It doesn't take long to find out what interests Jessie Milstead – everything. The sophomore at The University of South Dakota loves music – her iPod is a plethora of tunes and she plays several instruments from the guitar to the piano, even the saxophone; she's always had an interest in math and science; and she's extremely focused on her career choices, including national security or military intelligence, so political science is one of her passions, too.
One of her more recent interests is the Middle East, particularly Egypt and Israel, which will be helpful as Milstead will travel to Cairo, Egypt this August as a recipient of a 2010 National Security Education Program (NSEP) David L. Boren Scholarship.
"I'm very excited," said Milstead, a double major in physics and political science. "I'm looking forward to this opportunity and learning more about the Middle East."
NSEP Boren Scholarships are merit based offering recipients an opportunity for undergraduate students from the United States to study abroad. The maximum award is $8,000 for a summer, $10,000 for a semester and $20,000 for a full academic year. The Boren Scholarship not only pays for critical needs language training, it pays for students to study language in-country.
In addition to living in Cairo for the school year, the Hartford native will also be studying at Hebrew University this summer prior to spending the 2010-11 academic year at American University in Cairo. While in Israel, she plans on studying the Arab-Israeli conflict, mainly from the Israeli perspective.
Her fascination with the Middle East also has a lot to do with career opportunities. While at American University, Milstead will study Arabic as she attempts to learn more about Middle Eastern culture and, perhaps, in preparation for a life after college in military intelligence or some realm of national security. Law enforcement is nothing new to Milstead. In fact, it's something she grew up with as her father has served as sheriff of Minnehaha County since she was in fourth grade.
"It's something that's definitely familiar," added Milstead, the daughter of Rhonda and Mike Milstead. "I was never encouraged or discouraged about a career in law enforcement, but my father's background and my grandfather's background (Jim Milstead, a former South Dakota state patrolman) have been influential to some degree."
When Milstead originally signed up for college, she was interested in medical school with political science and national security far from the picture.
"I had planned on going to another school for pre-med," she admitted. "It seemed like a good challenge. I was looking for a good challenge, so med school seemed to be a good fit at the time."
Her interest in USD programs intensified when she spoke with Bill Anderson, Ph.D., associate professor of political science and director of the Government Research Bureau at USD. Even before she enrolled in a class, Milstead wasn't afraid to find out what she needed to do in order to become a successful student.
"Jessie solicited me for advice about the most rigorous academic program she could take to prepare her for a career in the defense or intelligence communities," Anderson recalled. "I advised her to consider a program that integrated physics or mathematics and political science."
After graduating from Hartford High School in 2007, she decided to forego college in the fall and focused on music for a year. Rather than study music, she was more interested in performing it as she traveled across the United States, Guatemala and even into Singapore as part of a music ministry group. She then landed in Washington, DC, for a semester internship with Sen. John Thune, R-SD, in the fall of 2008 and that's when the political science bug began to bite.
"That's when I made the decision to come to USD," explained Milstead, who's attending USD as a Dorothy Schieffer Scholar. "Members of the senator's staff had gone to school at USD, and I had heard a lot about the political science program."
Her decision to major in both political science and physics came easy, she explained, because of physics' importance in national security.
"I think physics can play an important role," Milstead added, "because science is kind of a universal language."
According to Anderson, who has witnessed Milstead's diligent work ethic outside the classroom for the Government Research Bureau, that even though Milstead is "challenged by the rigors of curricula in physics and political science, Jessie has been unflinching in her commitment to study broadly and deeply and push herself toward her personal and career goals. She is unstoppable and unflappable," he said.
As she readies for the trip of a lifetime, Milstead will have to set some of her interests aside in order to begin pursuit of her career in public service. Music, though, will continue to be an outlet for the USD student. After all, she just bought a drum kit.
"I love it here," she said of her experience at USD. "It was definitely a good decision to come here. I wasn't expecting the interaction that there is between students and faculty."