The Good Word | By Jon Cooper
Jessica Kowalewicz never kept track of personal accomplishments.
She was simply interested in helping Georgia Tech softball, not how much she did so.
So although she very much got a kick out of finding out she went 5-for-5 in stolen base attempts her final season, she also didn’t know she’d recorded 209 assists during her college career.
The Stone Mountain native plans on making plenty more assists in the future, starting soon after she graduates on Saturday with a degree in Biomedical Engineering, but these assists will be quite different and will be much more meaningful in the real world.
Kowalewicz will begin working for Abbott Laboratories as a Technical Sales Specialist, Electro Physiology/Cardiac Rhythm Management.
“I’ll be going from hospital to hospital and I’ll be going into surgeries and CAT labs,” she explained. “EP is electrophysiology, so that’s using a catheter to 3D map the heart and see where the irregular rhythm is and then burn the part of the heart to get it back to a regular rhythm. So I’ll be helping the surgeon repair the heart.”
The job is a perfect fit for someone who lives to give. In fact, it’s a dream-come-true.
“Basically the job I just accepted is my dream job,” she said. “I get to put the scrubs on, I get to go to the hospitals, I get to interact with the surgeon and I also get to interact with the patients to see how the devices and the implants and the procedures are actually helping their lives and make it better.”
Dedicating her life to making others’ lives better is an ideal that she began at Providence Christian Academy and enhanced at Georgia Tech, where she participated in such diverse causes as the Harlem RBI program during the summer of her sophomore year and the Hope Mission project in the Dominican Republic via the campus’ Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) during her junior year. That’s in addition to the countless community service projects on a smaller, more anonymous scale.
“I’ve always found purpose and joy when I’m helping others. It’s everything for me,” she said. “It started in high school. I started to find that passion and people mentored me in it. Then Georgia Tech gave me so many possibilities. Harlem RBI was actually through Champion Softball and Alysha Rudnik was a senior when I was a freshman so she got me on that. FCA was a big part of my life during Georgia Tech and they got me to the Dominican Republic.
“It’s just always been a passion,” she added. “That’s why when I was choosing a school and a major I knew I wanted to do something purposeful. I wanted to use the skills I was blessed with to actually make a difference in this world. Now, leaving Georgia Tech I feel fully equipped to actually make that difference.”
Honing her tools and finding the perfect outlet required traveling quite a road.
Kowalewicz, who so selflessly help others, even more freely doled out gratitude to those that helped her navigate her road, starting in the classroom.
“There was no one in my major for at least three years,” she said. “So I had to take all these classes on my own and figure out how to make friends through other Biomedical Engineers. Looking back, every semester I had pressure. I was like, ‘Man, this is really kicking my butt. I don’t know if I’m going to make it through.’ But I wanted to help people with whatever I did in life. I wanted my job to have a purpose. So whenever I hit those points where it was hard and I had sleepless nights, I just reminded myself that at the end of the day it would be worth it. So when I had that angle it made those minor bumps seem miniscule in the grand scheme of things.”
One of the biomedical engineers she befriended was hurdler Julian Darden, who she met through FCA, and who convinced her that the job at Abbott was right for her.
“Julian took the same exact position and he said, ‘This would be perfect for you,’” she recalled. “It was definitely a long process this fall but I give a lot credit to Julian for just putting that bug in my ear and just helping me get my foot in the door with the company and having kind words to say about me.”
Kowalewicz was more in her comfort zone on the softball field and made her mark as an unselfish, team-first player. After seeing sparse action as a freshman then primarily holding the DH spot as a sophomore, the team needed a third baseman, so she went out and won the third base job as a junior. The following season the team needed a second baseman, so across the infield she went.
She was a logical choice, having been recruited as someone who possessed the skillset to play every position on the infield. She’d also shown the kind of commitment as someone who would help at the drop of a hat.
“I love the game and I loved my team and wherever they needed me I wanted to be the best I could be,” she said. “A spot opened at third base my junior year. When that spot opened to show off my fielding skills and get in there for my team I jumped right in and I worked my butt off to earn my spot. It was hard my senior year to give up third base because I worked so hard to get comfortable there but we needed someone at second base so when Coach put me there I was more than willing to go. It was new but my team needed me there so I was ready for the challenge and I really enjoyed it.”
Kowalewicz really loved hitting her senior season, leading the team in batting average, runs, hits, doubles, total bases, on-base percentage. She showed she’d take one for the team, leading the team in getting hit by pitches and that she’d gave herself up, tying for the lead in sacrifices.
“It was a lot of fun,” she said. “Honestly, I have to give a lot of credit to Rodney DeLong, our hitting coach. I had a rough junior year as far as hitting. So he helped me put in that time and get better and really just get that confidence. I knew myself I could get there and my teammates knew I could, too. So it was nice to see the hard work pay off and enjoy that with my teammates.”
Jessica plans to enjoy Saturday’s walk across the stage of McCamish Pavilion, with several of her teammates, especially two of her best friends, Samantha Pierannunzi, her roommate for almost the entire time she’s been on campus, and Colleen Darragh -- both of whom she’s saw take their walk last spring.
Pierannunzi has been an especially important piece of her life.
“Sam’s like a sister to me,” she said. “It’s hard to talk about it without wanting to cry. We’ve been there for each other through four years of college -- five years for me -- and then life. Seeing Ms. Jeannie (Samantha’s mom) go through breast cancer again was some of the most heartbreaking things to see happen, but Sam’s response to it and Ms. Jeannie was such an inspiration, not just to me but to anyone who knew the story.
“It took just one glance into the stands to see her, my mom and Colleen’s mom rocking those pom poms, you know what kind of women they are,” she added. “Sam’s my best friend and so is Colleen. We live for each, we’d die for each other, we’ve had each other’s backs through whatever it is. Having people like Sam Pierannunzi and Colleen Darragh in my court of life, that’s one thing I’m forever grateful to Georgia Tech.”
In addition to her GT softball family, Kowalewicz will have her mom, dad, grandmother, brother, and his new bride, in attendance -- the newlyweds will be taking a redeye in from Oregon to see the event.
It’s going to be a very special day.
“I’m really excited, especially since being a fifth-year senior you see a lot of friends walk across that stage and how proud they are,” Jessica said. “It’s kind of surreal. It doesn’t feel quite real until I actually walk across the stage. Finally, it’s my time. I feel ready for it.”