Fusion Board Feature: Jackie Aman
Tell us more about your work at Wilder Research and what you do there, as well as some of your background.
“I’m a research scientist at Wilder Research. Essentially we work with organizations and state agencies and other government agencies and foundations to measure impact and to answer questions with information and data. A lot of that is helping organizations to collect information so they can tell the story of their work, so they can capture impact and be able to communicate that to their stakeholders, to funders… Sometimes it will be digging deeper into an assessment of what a community looks like, as our communities are changing so quickly.
Wilder Research is part of the larger Ahmerst H. Wilder Foundation that also has programs related to housing, aging, and mental health. “We are more of the evaluation and research arm that works with the Foundation.”
Amidst her nonprofit experiences throughout high school and beyond, the topics she gravitated most towards were data-related and working with communities and community engagement. “I love data. I’m fascinated by the by the intersection of data and information and community engagement, and how we can use those things to convene with other folks around topics, trade ideas, and think outside of what we normally do on a given day. I think that’s important.”
During her time at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Jackie helped organize leadership trainings for groups such as MnDOT and Minnesota Community Action, and she says this this was very humbling work. She loved “providing a space for them to reflect and learn and grow.”
As someone with a background in various areas such as research science, public affairs, and program coordination, what made you want to help lead Fusion Learning Partners?
“Being a part of an organization whose mission is about providing those spaces and those learning opportunities to pull different types of people together around really important issues. To get to do that and having a background in the nonprofit field and having a pulse on data and context from Minnesota and how to pull that contextual information together in ways that we can make sense of what we’re seeing and we can do what we’re trying to do better… is really exciting. I was excited to be a part of this team. It’s such a diverse group of folks on staff and on Board and who are just partners with the organization, so it’s been really great.”
From your current role and past experiences, what do you hope to bring to the ‘Fusion’ table? What experiences have inspired you to give back?
“My heart is always in the nonprofit field. We [at the Wilder Foundation] often work across nonprofits and for-profits and government entities… that’s where I got my start, that’s where I still work, and bringing that experience of being on the ground working with a nonprofit is hopefully useful, and you know, I am a data nerd. I love it. I live and breathe it every day, and I think that can be helpful as part of a larger group to bring that ‘nerdiness’ and a love of number and stories.”
Part of the mission statement of Fusion is to inspire innovation for the greater good… what does this mean to you, or why do you believe in this?
“I think about that in terms of making our communities a better place for everyone: making our communities healthier, having more opportunities, creating ways that different types of people can come together around those issues – can build upon the strengths that are already present in communities so that we can just work together better. To me, that’s how I interpret the mission statement… it’s just making communities better and providing spaces so that thinking and planning and those sort-of ‘energies’ can come together.”
There are many critical issues our communities are facing right now, but if you had to pick one, which issue needs the most innovative thinking and why?
“I think homelessness is a huge one for me. We [at the Wilder Foundation] do a tri-annual homeless study (every three years) across the state of Minnesota and across several of the native nations that are in Minnesota, and especially given that a lot of the homeless in Minnesota are families and their kids, stable housing is just so important… It’s connected to so many indicators. It’s hard to separate housing from healthcare and education, but having a good, stable, safe home is so important.”
Supporting caregivers is also a critical issue important to Jackie, “and not just parents, but also during COVID and even before – making sure those that are taking care of those who are sick and aging, that they have the supports both on a macro level, but also just on a micro level in terms of how organizations support their employees who are doing that really, really important work, and how we as a community can support caregivers.”
You’re the mother of two young children, and it seems that most parents of young children have a favorite toy or game they like to play, that kind of makes them feel like a kid again – what’s yours and why?
“I don’t know if it’s a game, but I think it’s just sledding. Sledding, in general, or tubing… We went this past winter at night, and it was so much fun. I don’t know if I’ve laughed that much… I did that as a kid, didn’t do it for a long time, and then to get to do it again and see your kids experience it for the first time is just magical.”
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
“I love to run. I love to run in trails in particular. Minnesota has so many trails, even here in the metro area, so I’ve been doing a lot more trail running especially with COVID… And I love going for hikes, in general, especially if you can explore a town that’s nearby. Minnesota is just a great place to hike and run and to do that with our family too.”
Jackie used to be a competitive runner, running multiple marathons and even completing a half-marathon in Paris while she was studying abroad in Spain. One of her favorite Minnesota races is the “Red, White, and Boom’” July 4th half-marathon, or the Surly Trail half-marathon.
If you could meet anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
“If I could meet anyone, I would meet all of my ancestors. I would love to know and talk with my great grandparents, their parents. I would love to just learn more about my family. You can do research on it, but to get to talk and see and hear why people moved and when and all of it – everything they went through. I think that would be so cool.”
Favorite pandemic past time?
“I always have a couple sets of books, ones that are a little bit more heady, a little more intense reads, and then I’ve really gotten into having more cabin books, or airport books, alongside those too, and I feel like my stacks have changed in their height during the Pandemic, where I’ve got way more airport books, or books that just take you to a different place or a different time. You can just step into a different reality at least for a little bit. So I’ve taken up a bit more of the light reading during the Pandemic and it’s been a really helpful thing for me.”