Clark: A Legislator With a Lab Coat

President Donald J. Trump’s attacks on the scientific community spurred Jasmine Clark (13G), who graduated from Laney Graduate School in 2013 with a doctorate in microbiology, to become involved in politics and run for the Georgia House of Representatives.

Clark, who now represents Gwinnett, managed to unseat six-year incumbent Clay Cox last year on a platform that called for a larger role of science in politics.

Jasmine Clark (13G) / Courtesy of Georgia House of Representatives

In addition to representing constituents, Clark also teaches as a lecturer at the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. Clark’s taste for politics began in her role as director of the first March for Science in Atlanta in April 2017.

“When Trump was elected, one of the first things he did was target the scientific community, specifically climate science,” Clark said. “After the Women’s March, a lot of scientists wanted to have a march to promote science as well, and the March for Science was born.”

According to Clark, Atlanta was an ideal location for the March for Science because of the high volume of prominent scientific institutions like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and research universities like Emory.

“Georgia has a vested interest in the sciences, so [I] and a group of people decided it was an ideal place for the march,” Clark said. “I was democratically chosen to be the director, and that propelled me into a whole new space that I had never really been in before.”

Once Clark became involved through the march, she realized how important it was to bring her perspective, one rooted in scientific data and rigorous logic, into lawmaking.

“I realized that maybe the reason [politicians are] not using scientific data is because they don’t understand it,” Clark said. “Not to disparage people without Ph.D.’s or people who don’t understand statistics — I just think it’s helpful to have someone in the room who does.”

Clark attended the University of Tennessee as an undergraduate studying microbiology, but she said Emory provided her the skills that distinguish her from the rest of Georgia’s state legislature.

“I enjoyed my time at Emory so much I still work there,” Clark said. “Even though I’m a microbiologist, I’d definitely say that my education at Emory has been absolutely invaluable. I learned so much about critical thinking.”

Clark named Professor of Microbiology and Immunology Eric Hunter as one of the most influential figures in her academic career. Hunter and Clark worked on a project that used high-definition deconvolution microscopes to track the movement of viral proteins.

“She is a really smart and committed individual who was always helping others,” Hunter said. “I think the data-driven perspective that Jasmine brings is sorely missing in the legislature. She’ll make a great addition to the House.”

In a political climate full of “fake news,” Clark said her background helps her stand out and stand by her words.

“When you prepare a paper in science, you need to cover all your bases,” Clark said. “When I make a conclusion about something, I need to be 100 percent sure because I’m going to send that out to a hundred people I don’t know and they’re going to dissect and critique and review what I’ve done.”

Clark teaches two online courses that she developed at the Woodruff School of Nursing.

Former Dean of Undergraduate Education at the Woodruff School of Nursing Angela Amar, who hired Clark as a lecturer, said students enjoyed Clark’s teaching style.

“We hired [Clark] to develop our online anatomy and physiology courses,” Amar said. “These aren’t easy subjects, and yet students loved what she did with the courses. They gave her high evaluations and even wrote letters about how much they enjoyed the classes.”

Though Clark seems to be living the best of both the academic and political worlds, at one point, she felt discouraged.

“There were at least three times in graduate school when I wanted to give up,” Clark said. “It was my support system that pushed me and said, ‘Jasmine you can do this.’ Whenever you feel like giving up, find something that motivates you and use that to get you out of that dark place.”