Meet the Scholars: Teresa Jackson


Teresa Jackson is a PhD student in Health & Human Performance at Oklahoma State University. She is a part of the Health Policy Research Scholars Cohort 2016.

Before we begin, tell us a little bit about yourself and what your research interests are.

I am Ft. Mojave, Seminole, Muscogee (Creek), Cherokee and Yuma. I was born in southeastern Oklahoma and grew up in Texas. I attended Oklahoma State University (OSU) where I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Environmental Sciences, Nutritional Sciences Dietetics option. I completed the OSU dietetic internship and a Master of Science degree in Nutritional Sciences. I worked for about a year at OSU developing and piloting a type 2 diabetes prevention program, Eagle Adventure, with an SNAP-Ed grant-funded interdisciplinary team. I then went to work in community nutrition with a large Tribal Nation in southeastern Oklahoma for five years. I did one-on-one counseling with high-risk WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) participants at eight clinics across the Tribe’s jurisdiction, taught prenatal classes at the Tribe’s medical center, implemented Eagle Adventure programming at elementary schools across the Tribe’s jurisdiction, and helped with a variety of community health fairs and nutrition education events. I then returned to OSU for an SNAP-Ed grant-funded position focusing on implementation and evaluation of Eagle Adventure and a social marketing campaign called Diabetes is Not Our Destiny. Just two years later, the SNAP-Ed grant-funded team left OSU and became Oklahoma Tribal Engagement Partners. We are dedicated to improving the lives of Native American youth and families by promoting health equity and social justice.

My research interests revolve around nutrition and wellness in Native American communities. I enjoy community-based participatory research and enjoy qualitative research because of its richness and storytelling foundation.

What’s the story behind why you’re doing what you’re doing? 

I’m doing what I’m doing because I’ve been blessed with many opportunities and resources. I have a responsibility to not only my family but my community and the larger population of Native people. My ancestors were resilient. My family is big and loud and funny and true. They have instilled in me a strong sense of pride for traditional knowledge and teachings. It’s important for me to use my gifts to help others and hopefully leave a legacy my ancestors will be proud to share.

Tell us about a project you are currently working on that you are excited about

A couple of months ago, a few friends and I worked on a proposal for a special projects cooperative agreement with USDA to create a Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) paraprofessional training program. In September, we were awarded the project and have started working on the program. I’m excited because not only are we fulfilling a need that will impact Native families and communities across the U.S., but I’m getting to work with some of my best friends. The next year is for training development, and the second year we will travel to various regions to conduct trainings. We’ll be working to empower nutrition champions to lead their communities toward improved nutrition and wellness. Our people were once strong and healthy and I believe we will get back there, together.

For people unfamiliar with your research area, what is one piece of information you think is important for them to know? 

Nutrition and dietetics is so much more than a number on a scale or a blood panel. We’re talking about food and all the intricate details of how we feed ourselves, and how we feed our families and our communities. So much goes into what many of us think is a simple task. I want the research and the work that I do to create change in how Native people see ourselves and how others see Native people.

Who is a researcher you admire and why?

I’m not able to name just one researcher I admire because there are many. Instead, I’ll share what I feel are the admirable qualities of these researchers. They are breaking barriers and belonging when they are the “other.” They show up in spaces that are not meant for them and share their research because it’s their duty. They are bringing others with them to the table because they know how important it is for all to be represented at the table. They fight each day and continue to do the work they are doing even when they are not supported. They have an unwavering sense of justice that leads them in the work that they do.

How has being an HPRS Scholar helped you during your time as a doctoral candidate?

Being an HPRS scholar has opened doors for me. I’ve been taught core concepts from outside of my discipline, had meaningful interactions with like-minded scholars and mentors from a variety of disciplines, and received a tremendous amount of support. The unwavering support of other scholars, mentors, and program officials has been unexpected and needed more than I ever thought it would be. The network I’ve become a part of and that is continuing to grow is priceless.

In the RWJF HPRS program we have worked with you to help you think further about using your research to develop policy. If you could use your research to change any policy, what policy would it be? 

I would change policy related to nutrition education in federally funded programs. I think programming would be more effective with more community involvement. So often the folks making the policies around federal nutrition programs are not the ones with the experiences and expertise to adequately make policy decisions. In order to create lasting changes related to nutrition and health, the goal of many federally funded nutrition programs, policy, and programming must come from within. Community members should be the leaders in creating policy. Researchers should work alongside community members to meet the wants and needs of the community.

Ok, here’s a fun question to wrap things up. If you were stranded on a desert island, what three items would you want to have with you?  

A hammock to relax in and gently sway with the island breeze, a good book to pass the time and sunscreen because wrinkles are no joke.

Thank you so much for your time! 

Teresa’s bio


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