2020 Tillman Scholar

Jessica Huerta

Air Force
University of California - Los Angeles

“I seek to share the stories of diverse men and women who defy rigid stereotypes and use innovative strategies for professional excellence and meaningful connections to their families and communities.”

Yearning to be a force for good and part of something bigger than herself, Jessica enlisted in the Air Force after 9/11. 

Often being the only woman in airfield-communications teams or among leaders in security forces, she learned a vital lesson in cultivating community. Community begins when an environment fosters inclusion, ownership and empowerment. When appointed as the wing equal opportunity adviser, she applied her sociology degree in evidenced-based workshops to alleviate interpersonal conflict, discrimination and sexual harassment. In doing so, she helped others bridge divides, discover similarities, and strengthen their diverse teams. 

Jessica then shifted focus to the ways people learn about others, particularly the representations of groups in news and social media. Selected as a public affairs officer in 2016, she used her master’s research to enhance multimedia story packages  that can strengthen a sense of community. Her team takes ownership and is empowered to showcase the wing’s diversity and professional excellence. 

As a citizen-airman, sociology doctoral candidate and parent, she became aware of the discrimination fathers face when they seek deep emotional connections with their families and greater involvement in childcare. Men sometimes suffer ridicule because some parental activities are often characterized as “women’s work.”  Without support or strategies to defend their fatherhood practices, some men may withdraw from their families, their work or their communities. Alternatively, some men bravely break gender stereotypes to cultivate meaningful connections with their families, beginning at the birth of their children. Jessica believes research to demonstrate the strategies fathers use to defy rigid gender rules could greatly improve the lives of men, their partners and their children across our military, veteran and civilian communities.