Even as she spread the word about the lure and mystery of outer space, Ciandra Jackson still thought of the suburban streets and paths of her childhood home.
Jackson, a graduate of Overland High School, was living in Houston, Texas and working for NASA at the Johnson Space Center as a communications and PR specialist. She had moved from Colorado to Texas with her husband in 2008 after graduating from the University of Northern Colorado with a bachelor's in journalism and receiving her master's degree in the subject from the University of Denver. She'd already worked in various communications roles for local schools, foundations and consulting firms.
"I was managing large-scale public awareness campaigns about the International Space Station. We were traveling all over the country putting on these huge outreach events," Jackson said of her time working for NASA. "We had our scientists talk to other scientists about submitting proposals to put their experiments on board the ISS. We wanted to increase the number of experiments that the astronauts worked on in space."
The job offered Jackson the chance to show off the skills she'd first started to hone in the journalism and writing classes at Overland. She was able to ply her trade as a journalist, even as she had access to some of the world's most cutting-edge science, technology, engineering and math.
"When I was working at NASA, one of the things the folks in my department had strong feelings about was making sure kids knew they didn't necessarily have to be an engineer or a scientist to work there," she said. "You can be a writer, you can be a graphic designer, you can be a web developer and work there."
But even as Jackson traveled across the country spreading the word about the majesty of the cosmos and the depth of NASA as an organization, she was never far from her Colorado roots. After all, it had been the writing program at Overland High School that had set her on her professional path. What's more, Jackson's K-12 tenure as a Cherry Creek School District student had given her a specific perspective on what it means to belong to a community.
"I would walk home from school, I felt safe in my community, and I think those things stick with you," Jackson said. "Houston isn't a huge walking community, and when we were living there, we'd be in certain places and there'd be no sidewalks. It would affect me. That really makes a difference."
It made such a difference, in fact, that Jackson – along with her husband and 6-year-old daughter – eventually decided to move back to Colorado. Those roots at Sunrise Elementary, Thunder Ridge Middle School and Overland would also steer the next step in her professional path. Less than two months ago, Jackson started her job as a communications specialist in the Epidemiology, Planning and Communication branch of the Tri-County Health Department. The massive organization serves about 1.3 million people in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties; their menu of programs range from immunizations to working to improve access to open spaces.
Focusing on community-wide health seems fitting for Jackson, whose credits her current interest in serving the health needs of the public to her days in the Cherry Creek district.
"That was part of the reason why we did move back – because I had such a valuable experience growing up," Jackson said. "It was very valuable to me, being able to walk home from school and I think that's why I'm so interested in the whole healthy community concept."
The parks, trails and open spaces of Colorado may seem like a far cry from the vast stretches of outer space, but Jackson sees a through-line in her career path. Whether it's been handling communications for a local Montessori school, spreading the word about NASA or tackling the complex issue of community-wide health, Jackson has always drawn on the passion for writing she first developed at Overland.
"I always like to stick to my journalism roots," she said. "I never want to give up my writing. That's where I came from."