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Thursday, December 7, 2023

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Jade Johnson Jade Johnson

Testing the Waters, Finding a Passion

Graduate student Jade Johnson received the prestigious Switzer Fellowship to pursue safe and sustainable water systems, a commitment with an unexpectedly personal connection.
By Lainie Fraser

“This is a great place for students to train and prepare for their careers and we can take pride in what we are offering our students here.”

Jade Johnson was a San Diego State University undergraduate studying chemistry when she traveled to Navajo Nation in Arizona, where her family is from, as part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) summer research program. 

While on her own family’s homeland, Johnson, who comes from an indigenous background,  collected water samples from wells and found more than half of them had arsenic levels exceeding federal safety limits. This sparked a passion to ensure that not only her own family but families across the country are no longer exposed to unsafe water.

“After that finding, I decided I wanted to pursue a career working to address the problems of water scarcity and pollution control,” said Johnson. “At the time I was getting my bachelor’s degree in chemistry which doesn’t have any emphasis on water. I supplemented this by reaching out to Eunha Hoh and trained in her laboratory for a year and a half before joining the master’s program at SDSU.”

It was with Hoh, a professor in the School of Public Health, that Johnson got the opportunity to work on an NSF-funded water treatment project and also where she was encouraged to apply for the Switzer Fellowship.

The Switzer Fellowship offers a year of support to highly talented graduate students in New England and California whose studies and career goals are directed toward environmental improvement and who clearly demonstrate leadership in their field. 

“I thought this fellowship was going to be the best thing for Jade,” said Hoh, who is also Johnson’s academic adviser. “Jade is academically excellent but more her background and her interest in true environmental protection matches this opportunity. She has an indigenous background and she recognized a problem there, and now her goal is to go back to her community and help them.”

The fellowship includes a $15,000 cash award for academic study, leadership training, access to a vibrant network of more than 650 Switzer Fellowship alumni, and opportunities for professional development during the fellowship year and beyond.

“This feels like a great opportunity to share awareness about something that I think is important and maybe not many people consider,” said Johnson. “I want to use this to become a more effective leader and make a significant impact in improving water scarcity on Navajo Nation and similarly affected communities.”

Johnson said she attributes her success to the help she got from Hoh and other SDSU professors who helped her apply for the fellowship and prepare for the interview portion of the application process.

“Being the first person in my family to get a degree meant that I had to lean on mentors a lot for academic and career guidance. I attribute a lot of my academic success to them,” said Johnson. “Dr. Hoh is an amazing mentor and I look up to her a lot. She, Natalie Mladenov, Kari Sant, Stephanie Brodine and Penelope Quintana all put their time and sincere effort to practice with me and provide feedback and make sure I was as prepared as possible.”

Hoh said receiving the fellowship reflects Johnson’s work as well as the university.

“This gives us a lot of confidence because it recognizes that this is something that SDSU does well,” said Hoh. “This is a great place for students to train and prepare for their careers and we can take pride in what we are offering our students here.”