“For as long as I can remember,” says alumna Chazeman Jackson, “I’ve felt that my purpose is the pursuit of equity and helping those who are least able to help themselves.” She wanted a career that connected to this purpose. And she’s found it. Jackson, MS biology ’04, is the health science advisor in the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a job that gives her the satisfaction of helping to improve public health for minority populations.
An area of particular interest to Jackson is cardiovascular disease, which kills nearly 800,000 Americans and accounts for one in three deaths, with treatment costs totaling more than $300 billion each year. The statistics are even more discouraging for minorities: non-Hispanic black adults are about 50 percent more likely to die prematurely of heart disease or stroke than their non-Hispanic white counterparts.
Jackson is committed to lowering these numbers through such projects as Million Hearts, an initiative that aims to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. She works with agencies across the nation to translate science research into interventions that will improve the health of all Americans.
“Health disparity is a major issue,” she says. “[Americans] are not achieving their best health. If we can create an environment where it’s easier to make healthy choices, it will help level the playing field.”
A Gates Millennium Scholar at AU, Jackson received a full scholarship from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She was attracted to DC for its globalism and to AU because it offered the opportunity to study science within a liberal arts setting. “AU was a place for discovering who I am and what I wanted out of life,” she says. “My mentors and professors helped transform me into who I wanted to become.”
After working for a year as a biologist at the National Science Foundation, Jackson was offered a position at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies through the Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship Program. The 12-week fellowship for early-career individuals served as a gateway for Jackson, enabling her to explore the development of policy— what worked and what did not. “That type of assessment really excited me,” Jackson says. “I felt like I had found my niche.”
Jackson believes that policy work allows her to have the greatest impact on the largest number of people. Translating science to policy enables her to inform the big decisions that will affect individuals and communities on a daily basis. “Access to quality health care should be something attainable for everyone,” she says. “In order to make this happen, we need to make some significant progress,” she says, “and changes need to be made on a system level.”
When asked about her hopes and ambitions for the future, Jackson prefers to talk instead about her legacy. “I want people to remember me as a service-scientist—as somebody who tackled the hardest questions and did so as a service to my community.” In short, she says, she wants to continue her evolution as “a better human being so I can contribute [to] making this a better world.”