Jessica Nelson

Jessica Nelson

Year of Graduation: 2009

Major(s): Biology and Peace Studies

Current Position: Research Consultant at The Lewin Group, Inc. (Graduate School: Master's in Public Health (MPH) -- 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 work as a research consultant for The Lewin Group in their Eden Prairie, MN office located in the Optum headquarters. The Lewin Group is a public health consulting organization with headquarters in Washington, DC, and owned by Optum/UnitedHealth Group. My first project included working on the Rhode Island state health insurance exchange working on quality and process improvements for their contact/call center. My current project is an evaluation of a Medicare demonstration ("pilot program") of a specialized-ACO (accountable care organization) for beneficiaries with end-stage renal disease. 

What path did you follow to arrive at your current job?
My path involved graduate school, lots of tireless searching for jobs, and a fundraising luncheon that led me to connecting with a board member who worked at Optum and who offered to tell me more about Optum and find me a job. I did informational interviews with him and with another staff member at Optum and somehow my resume got passed along to Lewin and here I am! The moral of the story is to share your passions and goals with the people you meet and you never know when someone will be/ have the connection you need to get you there. And, network, network, network - utilize all those fabulous resources! 

The more detailed story is that 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 struggled to find a job, so 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 and 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 for my MPH. In grad school, I did my field experience at the Minnesota Department of Health's Refugee Health Program, worked part time as a graduate intern on the MCH Navigator: a nationally disseminated learning portal/ training website for maternal and child health professionals, completed a yearlong Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Diseases (LEND) fellowship, and was an evaluation volunteer for the Health Commons at Cedar Riverside. Staying busy and juggling multiple responsibilities and deadlines really helped prepare me for working as a consultant. 

After finishing my coursework, I spent a year completing my master's thesis, working part time as a research consultant, and searching for jobs until I landed my current job at Lewin. 

To sum, I took advantage of a variety of opportunities, pushed myself out of my comfort zone, and experienced both success and failure (lots of failure), which, ultimately, helped me learn about myself - my skills, my passions, my weaknesses - and led me to a career that I love and am passionate about. 

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.  Also, cultivate the skills listed below, learn more about public health and health policy, and feel free to contact me to learn more! 

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. 

Some more hard skills are writing skills, communication, leadership, quantitative and qualitative research (Atlas.ti), project management, Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Visio), statistics (knowledge of SAS or STATA is a plus), evaluation.

(December 2015)