The Wolfpacker

January-February 2024

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2024 ■ 45 Young and her mother drove the 6.5 hours north from Augusta to Raleigh. When she arrived on campus, the sheer size of the university stood out. NC State's enrollment stood at 24,023 dur- ing its 1985 fall semester. Jacobs-Young quickly found friends among the sea of students thanks to the Wolfpack track and field program, a wel- coming academic environment and the college's New Horizons Choir. "I was a little bit overwhelmed when I first got there. It just was so different than anything I had ever experienced," she said. "But that was short-lived, be- cause one of the things about being an athlete is you get a built-in family." During her Wolfpack tenure, she won three conference titles while competing from 1985-89. She joined the team and discovered that her jumping style was not going to work at the ACC level, so she learned a new technique. Jacobs-Young persisted and said her experience with the Pack helped prepare her for the professional world. "It taught me a lot about myself," she said. "It taught me a lot about the system." 'A Series Of Fortunate Events' When she graduated with a Ph.D. in paper science, Jacobs-Young became the first Black woman to receive that degree, per NC State. She traveled across the country in 1995 to start her teaching career, spending time in Seattle as a professor of paper science and engineering at the University of Washington. "Talk about being someplace where you don't know anybody," Jacobs-Young said. Although she was living in an unfamil- iar city and working with a new faculty, Jacobs-Young was prepared for the chal- lenge thanks to the leap she made when moving to Raleigh for college. The Department of Agriculture of- fered her an opportunity to take another risk in 2002. Jacobs-Young moved again to start a new job as a national program leader with the federal agency. She spent the next seven and a half years approv- ing grant proposals before diving into the world of executive leadership. From 2009-21, Jacobs-Young worked in a variety of roles. She served as the director of the Office of the Chief Scien- tist, acting chief scientist at the USDA, and acting director of the National In- stitute of Food and Agriculture, among other positions. "It has just been a series of, I would say, data-driven, risky decisions, to just continue to take on new challenges and new tasks, being confident that I can do it," Jacobs-Young said. "And I think for a lot of that, I draw back to my time on the track." In 2021, she accepted President Biden's nomination for her current position. "I wanted to help lead our scientific workforce into the future," Jacobs-Young said. 'This Is What A Scientist Looks Like' Meeting with aspiring scientists is one of Jacobs-Young's passions. She spends a lot of time speaking with peo- ple of color who are pursuing STEM ca- reers, hoping to provide them with a sense of possibility as they think about their futures. "A lot of times, it's hard to aim for something you don't know exists," she said. "I would have loved to see more people that look like me, and I think it's so important for our young people to recognize that they have what it takes as well and that this is what a scientist looks like." She signed up for the Ambassadors Program run by the American Associa- tion for the Advancement of Science, taking an opportunity to continue work- ing with students. The #IfThenSheCan art exhibit recog- nized all of her career accomplishments with a statue that has traveled to the Smithsonian, MIT and other locations. She also won an ACC UNITE award this past fall, which "recognizes individuals affiliated with the ACC who have made an impact in the areas of racial and social justice," per NC State's press release. Jacobs-Young was the first woman and/ or the first person of color to accomplish many things throughout her life, includ- ing her Ph.D. from NC State. Now, she aims to help others follow in her footsteps. "It's part of my role and my duty to make sure that we have shown other young people the way," Jacobs-Young said. A Family Bond With NC State In 2022, NC State chancellor Randy Woodson called Jacobs-Young to ask if she would like to deliver the fall com- mencement address. For her, the invi- tation back to campus was a huge mo- ment. Jacobs-Young accepted and told the graduating class her story. Throughout her accomplished career, she has remained in touch with her for- mer professors, Dr. Hasan Jameel and Dr. Hou-min Chang, and her track team- mates, emphasizing the family feeling that has persisted from 1985 to now. Jacobs-Young 's experience at NC State still means a lot to her, and she was deeply appreciative of the opportunity to address the class of '22 at her alma mater. "It was, I would say at this point, one of the highest honors of my life to be asked to come back and do the com- mencement speech and have my profes- sor and my advisors in the audience," Jacobs-Young said. ■ During her tenure at NC State in the late 1980s, Jacobs-Young won three ACC championships in the high jump. PHOTO COURTESY CHAVONDA JACOBS-YOUNG " It's part of my role and my duty to make sure that we have shown other young people the way." Jacobs-Young

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