Jackson Thein

Jackson Thein '18



Degree and Class Year

BA ’18


Burns, Oregon


Biochemistry and Molecular Biology


Pamplin Society of Fellows, New Student Orientation Leader, Pioneer Success Institute Facilitator, Student Alumni Association, Student Health Advisory Board, Club Volleyball, Committee on Admissions and Financial Aid, Student Health Advisory Board, Student Academic Affairs Board (SAAB), Pre-Health Professionals Club, Biology and Chemistry Teacher’s Assistant, Pioneer Passport to Leadership, College Honor Board

Overseas study

Ecuador Summer 2016

What three words would you use to describe L&C?

Engaged, Aware, Independent

Life after L&C, January 2021 Update

We love to hear from our students once they’ve graduated from Lewis & Clark and moved on to exciting, new things. Recently, Jackson contacted the alumni office to tell them about his experiences working for Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley. This is what he had to say:

“Working for Senator Merkley is just so empowering. I genuinely feel like we’re delivering for Oregon and solving problems every single day. The senator is very much an analyst at heart (he will often check math or run the numbers himself in the margins of memos) so I get to draw on my biochemistry, epidemiology, and public health background pretty significantly in the work that I do, especially with the pandemic being such a presence. Overall, the office is supportive and kind, and everyone has a great sense of humor. I feel that my opinion and perspectives are valued. While I am tasked with health, education (including higher ed), LGBTQ+, and nutrition policy areas, the past six months have largely been occupied by health policy and pandemic response, as expected. We’ve done a lot overseeing vaccine development and helping out Oregon organizations along the way. There have been some wins and some losses, but overall it has been a pretty interesting time to be doing this work.“

Jackson keeps busy outside of work, too, despite the pandemic, adding, “I’ve had a lot more time for reading books and keeping up with running. I’m set for an April 2021 marathon in Nashville, Tennessee that I think will actually happen, though I’m not getting any expectations too high.

I also was gifted a ukulele recently, so learning that will be a fun adventure for 2021. It’s been awhile since I’ve been involved with playing an instrument, so hopefully it will be a nice return to making music.”

Jackson also shared this incredible photo of himself while volunteering at the 46th Presidential Inauguration in Washington D.C.

Jackson Thein standing in front of the U.S. Capitol for the 46th Presidential Inauguration.

Thanks for the updates, Jackson! We are proud of you!

Life at L&C

From environmental action to theatre and from analytical chemistry to student government, every student finds their own passion on Palatine Hill and fosters that interest in their four years here.

What has been your favorite class so far? How has it expanded your knowledge?

It is so hard to pick just one class that has been my favorite so far, but if I had to select one I would say that Introduction to Genetics and Evolutionary Biology with Associate Professor Tamily Weissman-Unni was my favorite class that I was able to take at L&C. Not having an AP biology course in high school, this class was my first real look into advanced biology, and I can say without a doubt that this class was the reason that I decided to become a biochemistry and molecular biology major. Throughout the class we were introduced to the basics of DNA and genetics, but Professor Weissman-Unni also pushed us to think about the material more critically. How do we know that these processes actually occur? How do disruptions in this process lead to human conditions and diseases? How does genetics relate to epidemics and determining which organisms can act as vectors for pathogens? This class really taught me how to think like a scientist, not just like a student, and offered me further inspiration for continuing on in the major and for pursuing my further career goals.

What made you want to come to Lewis & Clark?

Coming from a rural high school in Eastern Oregon, I knew about the advantages of a small, intimate education and I knew that I wanted to continue that experience in college. However, as I went through the college admissions process I was frustrated to see that almost every small, liberal arts college boasted the same three factors: small class sizes, close relationships with professors, and opportunities for student research. With all colleges saying the same thing, how could you possibly pick? For me, it really came down to speaking to current Lewis & Clark students and hearing that this college is one that actually follows through with these commitments, and after arriving I found this to be true myself. Professors here truly care about me beyond just my academics and I have no doubt in my mind that I could approach them with any issues or just to chat and catch up. This is truly what makes Lewis & Clark such a special place for me and it contributes to making this place feel like home.

How do you feel that your liberal arts education is preparing you for your future career plans in global health and medicine?

I have watched the importance of a liberal arts education play out in my own time at Lewis & Clark. When I entered in the fall of 2014, I was very adamant in the idea of going to medical school. I set out to take only classes that I deemed to be “relevant” to such a career goal: biology, chemistry, psychology, mathematics, and physics. While it is true that these disciplines are important for medicine, I began to realize over my time at Lewis & Clark that a liberal arts education is more than just preparing you for a future career or for further schooling. A liberal arts education is about preparing you to become a future citizen of the world who is informed about the events around them and well rounded with skills in a variety of fields. It was through this, and through working closely with my academic advisors, that I was able to push myself to begin to take classes outside of the realms of the health sciences. Classes such as Introduction to Sociology and Entrepreneurial Design Thinking taught me a number of skills that I could not hone with science classes alone, and I know now that these courses have bettered me as a student and as a human being. Beyond this, these courses were able to inspire me to find ways to combine my love of science and health with other interests in politics for a future career. I am now interested in global health as a field in medicine where professionals in this field must use a variety of disciplines on a daily basis to better the populations that they serve. While I know it will be challenging at times, I know that I will always be able to rely on my skills as a liberal arts student to guide me as I move forward into further schooling and my eventual career.

What’s your favorite spot on campus?

I would have to say that my favorite spots on campus are the two covered gazebos in the estate gardens. They are the best places to make a phone call, take a break and read a book for fun, or have a chat with someone between classes. During the late summer it is a stunning time to stand in the gazebo and overlook our beautiful gardens in bloom and reflecting pool as the sun goes down.

What’s your favorite thing about living in Portland?

The phrase that I often say about Portland is that it has both the comfort of a town but the fun of a city. In that sense, when you are downtown it does not feel as if you are in a massive, sprawling metropolitan city block, but it still has all of the fun and excitement of a large city. Portland has a ton to offer as a city, but all of the smaller, individual neighborhoods give off a welcoming feel. It is a great place to explore, get coffee with friends, or take a run on a Saturday morning!

How did you decide on a major?

While my favorite class fully confirmed my choice, I actually entered Lewis & Clark with the goal of becoming a biochemistry and molecular biology major. I had long been fascinated with science, but in my studies I always wanted to go deeper and in more detail: we know that neurons and specialized cells that transmit signals, but how does this happen? Biochemistry and molecular biology is all about exploring these details and more, and that is what really gets me excited about my major. After earning your degree, you have such an ability to discuss these details and relate them to relevant clinical applications thanks to the excellent professors in the major.

What’s your best Lewis & Clark memory so far?

One of my favorite memories was serving as a New Student Orientation (NSO) leader my very first year as a sophomore. I was incredibly nervous to meet my new students and introduce them to the college experience—especially since I had only been on campus for one short year myself! However, as I took students through their first few days on campus, I enjoyed the experience so much and also found out how much I did know about campus life so far. I loved the experience so much that I came back to be a NSO leader for two additional years and had a great experience for those years too. Through NSO I witnessed the excitement of the L&C community and how the whole college embraces the new class of Pioneers. It was definitely an amazing week to help with!

How do you manage stress?

Stress is a part of any college experience but there are definitive ways to manage this while still getting all of your homework done. One of my favorite ways to manage stress is to exercise throughout the week (playing volleyball, swimming, running, or otherwise) and by taking breaks periodically when studying. It is so important when you’re bogged down in a problem or in a textbook to take five minutes to stop, get up, and go take a walk around the beautiful campus and get some fresh air. It’s so important to do this to stop your own frustration with a problem, and often you can figure it out later when you come back to it after a nice break.

Where do you find community on campus?

There are so many different places where one is able to find community on campus, and, for me, it started in my major. Because science major classes are so sequential, many of the classes that you will take in your first two years will be with many of the same students in your cohort. This builds a natural camaraderie that grows outside of classes and into student life. Without a doubt, I have met some of my best friends in life from classes and clubs alike. Lewis & Clark has the friendliest students that I have ever met and everyone is so willing to have a conversation with you about anything!

Do you have a job on campus? If so, how do you fit work into your schedule?

College throws at you a number of new experiences, and it may seem that it is impossible to allot time for classes, work, clubs, and just living in general! However, it is entirely possible to manage everything and work while you are in school. I work a number of limited, small jobs on campus, such as being a peer notetaker for Student Support Services, facilitating Pioneer Success Institute courses for new students, and serving as a grader or teacher’s assistant for classes that I have already taken. Indeed, many of these jobs do not require a large investment of time throughout the week but still provide you with a source of income. Many on-campus offices that employ students also know that you are a student first and are very accommodating to that in terms of hours and availability!

What advice do you have for prospective students?

My biggest piece of advice for prospective students would be to visit or stay overnight (if possible) at schools that you are interested in. After this, pick a school that you know you will be happy at. Visiting is really the best way to pick up on the feeling of the campus community, and it’s necessary for you to be able to see if you would really be happy to study and make friends at that school for the next four years. College is truly what you make it and by setting yourself up for success at the right school you can really go on to accomplish great things in the classroom, studio, or laboratory!

How has Lewis & Clark has changed you?

As I mentioned previously, my time at Lewis & Clark has been taught me the importance of the liberal arts education while also teaching me how to think more critically about problems, both inside and outside of my major. While the classes at the college have been exceptional, I think that I have learned the most from my fellow students. Lewis & Clark has the extraordinary ability to bring together students from all over the world with a variety of unique experiences, backgrounds, and ideas that they bring to the table with class discussions and how they perceive the world around them. By hearing these differing perspectives I have enhanced my own understanding of the world and have had my own ideas shaped (for the better) by those around me. In full, I have loved everyone that I have met in my time at Lewis & Clark and they have pushed me and helped me to be the scholar that I am today.

Have you had the opportunity to do research with a professor? What did you learn from that experience?

During the summer of 2017, I had the amazing opportunity to work with Professor Greg Hermann to study developmental cell biology in the C. elegans nematode warm. This experience was extraordinary: Professor Hermann and I worked together, learned together, broke things together, laughed together, and I grew an incredible amount as a budding scientist through the experience. While you can learn so much from lectures and books, nothing quite compares to watching genetics in action under a microscope in the lab.

On top of this, I also had the opportunity to work with Professor Arthur O’Sullivan in some minor political work related to my home congressional district. This work was particularly challenging as it took me outside of my comfort zone from the sciences, but I enjoyed it immensely and I was happy that I was able to explore this interest in a formal setting.

Both of these experiences allowed me to finally see how the many years of studying have practical applications in the real world, showed me all of the challenges that can come with conducting research both in the sciences and the humanities, and how to troubleshoot these issues on your own with the guidance of a professor. Overall, I cannot begin to express my positivity for these experiences and would highly encourage them for a student in any discipline!

What was your overseas experience like?

My time spent studying abroad in Ecuador was transformative for both my study of the Spanish language and my own personal growth. Right as the wheels of our plane touched down at the Quito Airport my group and I were fully immersed in Spanish, and I watched over the course of the semester as my language skills took off toward fluency. However, studying abroad is about so much more than academics. Through my study abroad experience, I gained a new perspective on what it means to be a United States citizen while also learning about how to truly communicate with someone from a different cultural background. In short, I cannot imagine my college career without study abroad.