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Home » Discover Rackham » Student Spotlight: Jacki Antonovich

As we walk through the building to find a quiet place to talk, Jackie reminisces about time spent in Rackham as a part of the Summer Institute before officially beginning her graduate studies. “I spent a lot of time on the fourth floor that summer. This building is so comforting because of it.”

“Spending the summer at SI gave me a huge leg up when starting grad school. It did a wonderful job of preparing me emotionally and mentally for the challenges and opportunities to come. There was recognition of the different types of graduate students and how to get support on campus. There were even panels to help spouses acclimate to Ann Arbor.”

As a non-traditional student Jacki says, “I’m 41 now, and I didn’t realize my potential as an academian until later in life. I’ve been a waitress, bartender and a single mom. I can understand a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives in other students and serve often as a mentor to them.”

Her path to Michigan speaks to the depth of graduate education at U-M. “I attended a conference at the University of Wyoming while I was finishing my undergraduate degree in 2009. My paper won best overall paper at the conference – beating out graduate students.” After her Master’s degree at the University of Wyoming, faculty there made it clear that she was Michigan material. “I was thrilled. Many of them taught at U-M or completed their dissertations here and said this would be a great fit for me. Michigan is doing the kind of work I want to do.”

Jacki is an Americanist, studying U.S. history from 1865 to the present. Her dissertation research focuses on how medical women shaped the modern American West, specifically emphasizing the social, political and medical geography of the West. “Women received their medical degrees in the East and migrated West, searching for areas to practice. As they did, they got involved in suffrage and political issues. These are unrecognized aspects of history.” (And no, she has not yet seen any episodes of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman…)

This summer, Jacki received the Boyd Williams Research on Women and Work grant from the Institute for Research on Women and Gender (IRWG). She’ll also spend the summer interning at the Charles H. Wright African American Museum in Detroit. Her project there will be to finish a digital exhibit called Voices of the Civil War that features clips of African American civil war stories.

Jacki actively pursues other opportunities to extend her academic experience to the community. After participating in an in-class project to create a national historical landmark for the Dr. Bob House, where Alcoholics Anonymous was founded, she got involved with the Rackham Arts of Citizenship program to continue this type of work outside of the academic environment. She and a group of graduate students re-wrote the national historic landmark nomination for the Cliveden House in Philadelphia. “Historians can lose perspective in the archives but this kind of experience keeps me connected to the community. We had some really cool conversations that were a chance to bridge the gap between public scholarship and the community. This was a great experience.”

After being inspired by the Arts of Citizenship faculty advisor, Matthew Countryman, Jacki created a collaborative blog called Nursing Clio. She gathered a group of historians, activists and women’s studies scholars to delve deeper into the historical roots of gender and medicine issues in the news. “We’ve been able to create a dialogue that is fun and rewarding, connecting scholars and the community around these issues. The blog has been incredibly successful beyond my wildest dreams. We’ve been quoted in national publications like The New York Times, Slate, and The Huffington Post. We have submissions from Australia, Ireland and all over the U.S.”

Opportunities for public engagement have added to her scholarship at U-M, and Jacki is forthright in the role funding has played in making her graduate experience possible. “It has been everything,” she says. She received a fellowship in her second year from the Center for the Education of Women. “It is so important – Rackham funding through Arts of Citizenship, as well as funding from IRWG, CEW – – the whole community of units is passionate about graduate education and helping support graduate students.”

What’s in store for Jacki after graduation will hopefully be a tenure track position, but she wants to figure out how to undertake traditional scholarship and public outreach. “In my first semester at the University, psychology professor Stephanie Rowley gave our class a speech that sticks with me today. She described three pillars to an academic career: research, teaching and service to the community.” Jacki is striving to achieve that balance even now in the ways in which she pursues her graduate studies.

When asked what she does for fun, she laughs and says, “There’s a lot of homework in our house.” Her husband is a non-traditional student as well, pursuing an undergraduate degree in secondary education at Eastern Michigan University. Still, she’s taken up ice skating with her seven year-old daughter and is surviving driver’s training with her 16 year-old son.

“I guess it’s a tradition after you finish your candidacy exam to take up a hobby. Mine is going to be gardening.” In her life and career, Jacki is on track to grow much more than vegetables.