Jessica Nelson

Jessica Nelson

Majors: Biology and Peace Studies
Year of Graduation: 2009

Current Position: Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) fellow at the University of Minnesota. Graduate Intern working on the MCH Navigator--a free online training portal for maternal and child health professionals--through the Maternal and Child Health Bureau.

Graduate School: Finishing up my Master's in Public Health--in Maternal and Child Health with a Global Health concentration and a disability certificate--at the University of Minnesota.

Please give a brief description of your current position/location and what it entails?
I am currently located in Minneapolis while finishing my master's studies at the University of Minnesota. As a LEND fellow, I am a part of an interdisciplinary group at the University of Minnesota that consists of 13 fellows (post-doctoral, pre doctoral, and community) and LEND faculty. The fellows and faculty meet weekly for seminars and facilitated discussions. Other activities include clinical experience at the University's Autism clinic, Craniofacial clinic, and Cleft Palate clinic and Gillette Children's Hospital, Families as Teachers in home experience, and individualized research. As a graduate intern, I do part-time, distance work on the MCH Navigator ( that includes creating a catalog of training modules/ learning opportunities, writing summaries and instructions for learning opportunities, and using WordPress to update website pages.

What path did you follow to arrive at your current job?
My path to graduate school, and thus my current fellowship and job, included interests in human rights, health, equity, and empowerment. While I was at CSB/SJU, I majored in Biology and Peace Studies and was involved in lacrosse, College Democrats, Student Preparation Committee, Kenya May Term, Roman/Greco Study Abroad, US/Mexico Border Alternative Break Trip, and India/Nepal Summer Term. I also tutored inmates at the St. Cloud Prison and was a Special Olympics Swim Coach.
After graduation, I interned for two and a half months in Kathmandu, Nepal at an organization called Shtrii Shakti (meaning "women's strength or power")--an NGO whose mission is the empowerment of women, youth, and excluded groups in Nepal. After my return from Nepal, I spent eight months living at home and working as a coordinator at Quality Care Services (a group home for four adults with developmental disabilities).

My second year out of undergrad, I spent working for AmeriCorps/ Episcopal Service Corps in Los Angeles. My year was spent living in an intentional community in Koreatown, Los Angeles and working at an organization in Santa Monica called Common Ground: The Westside HIV Community Center. At Common Ground, my position was a prevention advocate in which I did HIV testing and counseling, harm reduction, needle exchange, overdose training, community outreach, and co-ran the homeless youth drop-in center (HYPE).

After my year in LA, I moved back to Minnesota and began graduate school at the University of Minnesota. Halfway through my first year of grad school, I went to a national conference--AMCHP (Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs)--in Washington DC and, while doing some networking, I met the woman from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau that was in charge of the MCH Navigator, expressed interest, gave her my card, and have been working on it ever since. In regard to my fellowship, my advisor told me about the opportunity and encouraged me to apply based on my interests in disability. I was a bit hesitant as, at the time, since disability was not one of my major passions in public health; although it was an interest with my experiences with Special Olympics and working at a group home. After some soul-searching--and reflecting on other opportunities I applied for and didn't get--I decided I may as well apply. I ended up getting the fellowship and, since my initial hesitancy, have been amazed by my passion for this work and am grateful that I decided to take the leap and apply.

What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?
Challenge yourself. Expose yourself to new ideas, people, and experiences. Be genuine. Discover your passion and pursue it.

What skills are important in your field?
The skills I find most valuable to have in this field are listening and communication skills, flexibility, resiliency, willingness to try/learn new things, and the ability to multitask. It's also important to be open-minded, inquisitive and passionate.

(February 2013)