GS:       Where are you from?

JA:        I was born and raised in Cajun Country: Lafayette, LA. 

GS:       What degree did you/will you receive and when?

JA:        I completed the Dietetic Internship here at UAB (2004-2005), stayed to get a Masters in Clinical Nutrition (2007), and am now working on a PhD in Nutrition Sciences.  I will graduate in July 2011.

GS:       What is your research?

JA:        Overall, my research at UAB has focused on ethnic differences in diabetes risk.  My dissertation project will investigate the relationship of blood vitamin D levels with insulin sensitivity and vascular function in African American and Caucasian teenage girls.  African Americans tend to have lower blood vitamin D levels, and I am looking to see if this plays any role in their greater risk for diabetes and hypertension.

GS:       What made you choose UAB for your graduate studies?

JA:        I researched a lot of graduate schools, and UAB kept popping up as one of the top centers for nutrition and medical research, so I chose it for my Dietetic Internship.  I felt so at home with UAB and the Nutrition Sciences faculty was so supportive of me, that I decided to stay for the rest of my graduate school endeavors.

GS:       Have you received any awards or honors?

JA:        During my time here at UAB, I have received the following:

  • Birmingham District Dietetic Association Recognized Young Dietitian of the Year, 2009;
  • American Dietetic Association, Alabama Memorial Scholarship, 2009;
  • The Greater Southeast Affiliate American Heart Association Predoctoral Fellowship, 2009 (25-Hydroxyvitamin D, Vascular Functioning, and Insulin Sensitivity in a Bi-Ethnic Population);
  • The Endocrine Society Presidential Poster Award, 2009;
  • Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center Charles Barkley Health Disparities

Investigator Award, 2ndPlace, 2009;

  • The Endocrine Society Travel Grant Award, 2009;
  • Endocrine Trainee Day Attendee at the Annual Endocrine Society Meeting, 2009;
  • Office of Dietary Supplements and National Institutes of Health Travel Award, 2007;
  • UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences Research Poster Award, 2007;
  • UAB School of Health Professionals Dean’s Diversity Scholarship, 2007;
  • Alabama Dietetic Association Memorial/Honor Scholarship, 2005;
  • Alabama Dietetic Association William E. Smith Scholarship, 2005;
  • UAB Dietetic Internship E. Neige Todhunter Award, 2005

GS:       What has been your most rewarding experience at UAB? JA:        My most rewarding experience has been finding and developing a research topic that I am truly passionate about, and then being awarded an American Heart Association predoctoral fellowship grant for that research topic.  It feels so good to be able to research something you can call your own. GS:       Who was your greatest influence here at UAB and why?

JA:        That's a hard question; there are several people I could name.  One of the most influential to me has been my mentor for both my Master's and PhD projects, Dr. Barbara Gower.  She has been great about giving me my independence and allowing me to develop as a researcher, while at the same time always being there for encouragement, support, and advice anytime I've needed it.  I look up to her and trust and respect all of her teachings, and I know I will continue to do so long after I've graduated.  Another of the most influential has been Mrs.

Betty Darnell, who took me in as a trainee for my Master's, and encouraged me to continue with my studies.  Her selflessness and support for her students amazes me. 

GS:       What is your motivation in your academics/research?

JA:        I love the feeling I get when I've been studying and researching a topic and something finally clicks in my brain.  That "aha" moment keeps me going!  

GS:       What are your plans after graduating and for the future?

JA:        After graduating, I hope to continue my research as a post-doctoral fellow (wherever anyone will have me!)

Jessica’s advice for other graduate students

People always think you've got to be extremely smart to make it as a graduate student, but I think most of your success as a grad student is due to patience and perseverance.