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Honors Trajectory

Alumna Dr. Jacquelyn Zimmerman Shares Her Journey to Mentorship
Honors Trajectory

Dr. Jacquelyn Zimmerman, pictured center.

Like many high-achieving high school students, Jacquelyn Zimmerman had a plan for college — one that changed dramatically after she entered LSU.

“I was going to come in, join the Honors College, do genetics research, and then go to grad school,” she recalls. “And that's not exactly what happened.”

Zimmerman’s trajectory from a promising LSU recruit to Honors College alumna, to Internal Medicine resident at The Johns Hopkins Hospital has been fueled from the beginning by a zeal for research.

“I've always been interested in genetics,” Zimmerman explained. “Part of what drew me to come to LSU was the opportunity to do the President’s Future Leaders in Research Program, which pairs students with faculty members in an area of their choice and then allows you a very early exposure to basic and translational research, which I knew was something I was interested in coming into college.”

According to Zimmerman, research was an attractive path of study because of the work and eventual edification that went into asking — and trying to answer — a good question.

“Having control over asking and answering a question is a very gratifying place to be,” she said. “Research has challenged me in the sense that you can't always plan everything out and have the outcomes that you're hoping for.”

Asking strong questions was just the start of her passion for research. Zimmerman attended LSU and the Ogden Honors College, graduating in 2007 with College Honors. Her tenure as an Honors student includes being recognized as a member of USA Today's All-USA College Academic Team, receiving a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, spending two summers conducting research and taking extra classes, serving as an Honors Advocate, and completing an Honors Thesis on her experimental results. At the Honors College, Zimmerman said she began to develop the critical thinking skills that were foundational in learning how to ask and answer a researchable question — skills that later served her well in graduate school.

“The nurturing atmosphere of the Honors College, the leadership, the flexibility in terms of coursework that you could take, the fact that I got a little bit more breadth of education than I would have otherwise gotten — all this made a very big difference in my global outlook.”

Among her mentors, Zimmerman lists Boyd Professor and Dr. Mary Lou Applewhite Distinguished Professor Dr. Mark Batzer, Associate Ogden Honors College Dean Ann Sumner Holmes, and Director of Fellowship Advising Dr. Drew Lamonica Arms. Within the Honors College, Zimmerman took seminar courses from Dr. Holmes and worked with Dr. Arms to apply for prestigious awards.

“I do think one of the other benefits of the Honors College is the encouragement to apply for undergraduate fellowships,” Zimmerman noted. “Dr. Arms was a phenomenal mentor through this process. This is another tremendous advantage in the community of learning.”

In conjunction with the Honors College courses, Zimmerman worked in Dr. Batzer’s lab for two years, assisting in research that eventually led to the completion of her Honors Thesis: “A SINE-based dichotomous key for primate identification.”

“Dr. Batzer really prioritizes trying to promote the next generation of people that are interested in going into science and medicine,” she said. “As I get farther along down the road, I have more appreciation for mentors that are really able to incorporate students at a young age, and trust them enough to give them meaningful work and meaningful mentorship.”

Beyond the lab setting, Zimmerman immersed herself in service by signing up for programs with S.T.E.P Thru S.T.E.M. and the Wesley Foundation.  Much of Zimmerman’s service commitments focused on spending time with children.

“I used to spend time with the preschool students at University Terrace. I wouldn't say it was mentoring,” she added, laughing. “I would say it was playing, because we played on the playground a lot.”

Her eagerness to engage with the community made Zimmerman stand out, according to her mentors. Dr. Holmes remembers Zimmerman fondly.

“Jacquelyn is one of the most intellectually brilliant students whom I have encountered in many years of teaching,” Holmes said. “Yet, what impresses me most about Jackie is not her intelligence, but rather her compassion. The world is a better place because of her.”

Through her balance of research and volunteerism Zimmerman began to uncover a clearer path for what she hoped to accomplish post-LSU. These new revelations about herself and her work led her to adjust her plans.

“Two and a half years into college, I decided that I liked interacting with people,” she said. “I liked application to my science. Through the mentorship of Dr. Batzer in the [then] College of Basic Sciences he encouraged me to consider doing a dual degree program after graduation.”

Already well-versed in research after undergoing the rigorous undergraduate thesis process, Zimmerman felt that this “eye-opening” and “self-learning” experience had prepared her for embarking on the next stage of her academic career. At Dr. Batzer’s suggestion, Zimmerman took the MCAT and applied to dual M.D./Ph.D. programs, enrolling at the University of Alabama at Birmingham to pursue her joint degrees. In 2014 Zimmerman graduated from UAB and moved to Baltimore, where she has been in residency in Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins. She started an oncology fellowship in July of 2017.

Now, Zimmerman’s plan is to continue practicing medicine and to pass on what she has learned.

“I want to stay in an academic location and continue to participate in translational and clinical research, while still mentoring and teaching people that are coming after me,” she said. “I feel like I've benefited so much from the mentors that have brought me along.”

Mentorship, however, is only a fraction of what has given Zimmerman such an expansive academic and professional footprint. She also credits the Honors College for her many successes, particularly the lasting impact of a close-knit community that has extended past her four years as a student. Living in the Laville Honors House Zimmerman met some of her best friends — other out-of-state students seeking camaraderie. She has stood in the weddings of these friends, and been present when their first children were born. For Zimmerman, these experiences have shaped her as much as her intellectual pursuits.

“I feel like the Honors College is a hidden jewel of this university. It really was a true community of learning,” she said. “I could go to class with the people that I lived with, I could get the exposure to some of the classical disciplines that I wouldn't have otherwise been exposed to doing biology and genetics and chemistry.”

As she moves forward with her career, Zimmerman hopes that others students will take advantage of all the Honors College offers so that they might one day, like her, be able to pass the torch on to someone else.

“I think that the number of opportunities is phenomenal here and you just have to be open to receiving them and taking advantage of them,” she said. “My hope would be that subsequent students have a similar experience to my own — a sense of feeling like the Honors College was really the icing on the cake of their LSU experience.”

Story by Jacqueline DeRobertis, Ogden Honors College. For more information, email jacquelined@lsu.edu or call 225-578-0083.