Professor Jackson is a realistic wonderwoman
By Elain Gerou
To the average student, Dr. Lisa Jackson seems like an enthusiastic and passionate professor of psychology who always can be seen sporting a professional appearance of dresses and heels. Outside of the classroom, she is much more than that, working as a full-time researcher, a certified group exercise instructor, the Chair of the Board of Directors for Ozone House, a nonprofit homeless shelter for children in Ann Arbor and a mother to two college students.
“The thing I love about my life is that I am never bored,” said Jackson.
As the Chair of the Board of Directors for this shelter celebrating its 45th anniversary, Jackson oversees the executive director and has the fiduciary responsibility of making sure grants are administered properly. The board runs an audit every year and passes an approval budget.
Although it is not in Jackson’s job description, she enjoys hosting a movie night once a month with a discussion at the end. She also helps with resume writing workshops and teaches kids how to interview for jobs.
Jackson teaches a cardio step class for both advanced and intermediate levels, but teaches beginners twice a year. She also manages to squeeze in instructing a total body weight lifting class open to all ages and genders once a week.
With her research, Jackson is required to perform several different surgical procedures on rats and also injects estrogen into female rats simulating a menstrual cycle to observe the differences in cocaine use associated with different levels of estrogen.
“A lot of our ideas about how the brain works are primarily based on research only done on males, so a lot of the studies out there need to be redone to see how those things differ for women. Part of what I do looks at a tiny piece of that,” said Jackson. “When I work with rats, I get to tweak systems by administering estrogen or progesterone and manipulating testosterone and turning on the dopamine system using cocaine to illustrate how male and female brains work differently. We have found that reproductive hormones change the way dopamine works for women, but not for men. We should care about that because many medications that were designed to change dopamine or impact depression were only tested on men.”
This research can influence people’s understanding of how to prescribe medicine and can also influence drug development.
“Now, the FDA requires that you must test women in studies, but it doesn’t require that you test across the menstrual cycle,” said Jackson.
Jackson also studies how women’s sensitivity to pain changes during different periods in their menstrual cycle. This study allows Jackson to look at how opioid receptors and endorphin release are different in men and women and how it changes across women’s menstrual cycles.
“In depression, pain is a factor. Depression changes across cycle. How does endorphin release change across cycle? Drug developers can look at from our basic science what other systems are coming on board,” said Jackson. “Drugs developers could develop drugs that are as effective as narcotics, but not as sedating, so you could drive on them and don’t have abuse liability.”
Jackson has been researching these topics since 1999, and the studies she works on will be researched for years to come because different studies continuously tweak the process by adding variables or changing doses.
“It’s refreshing to see someone who truly loves their job and is passionate about what they’re doing; we don’t see that much anymore. It’s possible that major discoveries will come from her research,” said Schoolcraft sophomore Jenna Guck.
Although she started as a biology major in undergraduate school at Buoy State University in Maryland, Jackson sparked a love for psychology and her relationship with rats began with her undergrad wet labs. Jackson left Maryland, earned a masters and Ph.D. in Biological Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Michigan and taught other undergraduate students towards the end of her career as a student.
Jackson has been a part of the Schoolcraft community for five years teaching introduction to psychology, human sexuality, interpersonal relations, child psychology and abnormal psychology.
In addition, Jackson also continues to teach a lab at the University of Michigan and has been an educator there for about six years.
“I really like being someone’s first psych. professor. I think it’s fascinating. Everybody should be able to get something out of it no matter what your major is. It applies to everything we do,” said Jackson.
Jackson stays involved on campus being the faculty sponsor for the Civil Rights club who carry out goals to educate people on human rights, racial equality, gender issues and more.
“Professor Jackson brings her natural leadership and passionate attitude to every meeting. She fosters our ideas and helps them become reality. She is supportive of each member and the group as a whole,” said Eric Watson, President of the Civil Rights Action Club.
Professor Jackson leads a busy lifestyle, mastering of the acts of balancing tasks and time management. Her passion for psychology pays off in inspiring students and researching for the future. There is no end to the help she gives to others.