Jessica Smith likes change.
“I like having a new challenge,” she said.
And she’s taken on quite a few challenges. She’s a credentialed dog trainer. She’s working on a second bachelor’s degree in psychology. She has a real estate license. She also works in the College of Family and Consumer Science’s foods and nutrition department as a research coordinator.
“I love the idea that we’re investigating aspects of family behavior that could help people be happier, feel like better parents and, in general, help families,” she said. “When people engage in the research, enjoy it and feel like they’re doing something good for themselves that is also important—that is the most rewarding part for me. I feel like we’re having an impact on the community and also, hopefully, the scientific community, as well.”
Currently, Smith works for Leann Birch, the William P. Flatt Childhood Obesity Professor in the foods and nutrition department, as a project coordinator for a National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases funded research project. Researchers in the foods and nutrition department, the psychology department in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Center for Family Research at UGA are collaborating with Augusta University to conduct the Sleep SAAF: A Strong African American Families study. The project is using home visits to test the effects of a responsive parenting intervention on infant behavior and development in a sample of first-time African American mothers.
“I love working with researchers,” Smith said. “I’m a pretty methodical person, so I really enjoy that aspect of putting together a project and executing the different parts of it—how are we going to recruit, what is testing going to look like, who are the major players. I’ve loved working with the entire team.”
Previously, Smith served as a recruitment coordinator for a clinical trial that looked at bone and muscle growth with Richard Lewis, UGA Foundation Professor in Family and Consumer Sciences and director of the Bone and Body Composition Laboratory.
“I like learning, and I like experiments,” she said. “I like that we’re taking an idea and getting to execute the research question and see what we learn.”
Smith’s bachelor’s degree is in English, but it is her management and organization skills and interest in science writing that helps her work in research, which can include everything from managing recruitment to executing testing to processing data.
It’s also those skills that keep all of her own projects going. One that she’s particularly passionate about is dog training, which she was inspired to study after rescuing a puppy with anxiety issues. She also competes in sport training—specifically disc and agility—with her three dogs and plans to continue her animal behavior education.
Smith added that she enjoys “feeling like part of the community” in Athens.