Stumbling upon a passion for public health

Jackie Andula (MPH '03, BS '90) holding an award alongside Mike Anderson, UBAA president and Cynthia Khoo-Robinson, vice president for alumni engagement and annual giving at the 2019 Volunteer Service Awards.

From left to right: Mike Anderson (EMBA '17, BA '97), UBAA president; Jackie Andula (MPH '03, BS '90), 2019 alumni volunteer of the year; Cynthia Khoo-Robinson, vice president for alumni engagement and annual giving.

When Jackie Andula graduated from the University at Buffalo with her bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1990, she had no idea she’d spend the next three decades working in public health for Erie County. 

Jackie began her career as a general duty nurse at the Erie County Medical Center. Shortly after, she became the nursing team leader of the geriatric unit, where she managed a 40-patient floor and cared for chronically ill and elderly patients.  

While she loved nursing, she realized that she didn’t enjoy working in a hospital. Then, on one random day a few years later, she saw a posting for a public health nurse and educator at the Erie County Department of Health that changed the course of her career.

Rerouting her journey.

“I stumbled upon my passion by accident,” she says. “Now, I’m only a few years away from retirement. But it seems like just yesterday I began my journey.”  

As a public health nurse, Jackie had two parts to her role: serving as a clinical nurse for a county STD clinic and developing an STD outreach and education program.   

“One day I would be talking to a high school health class or working at a community health fair, and the next I would be walking the streets of Buffalo handing out bleach sterilization kits and condoms,” she says. “It was a very enlightening experience, and it made me realize I loved public health.” 

Mastering public health.

After a year working in the field, Jackie knew she had found her life’s purpose. When she started thinking about furthering her career, though, she noticed that there weren’t any public health graduate programs in the area–until UB launched one a few years later in 2001.  

“When I heard about UB’s master of public health program, I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” she says. “There were only five of us in that first graduating class, and we were all women. Many of us still keep in touch today.”

Once she earned her master’s degree in public health from UB in 2003, she moved into a consulting role and then became special assistant to the Erie County commissioner of health, where she began to manage all county public health programs and oversee employees in these areas.  

“Public health is so important because it never forgets anyone,” Jackie says. “Our goal isn’t profit—it’s health. Everyone is a member of the public, and we often help those groups others forgot.”  

Today, Jackie is responsible for regulatory requirements and quality improvement for the department as the medical care administrator. She manages nearly a million dollars in grant funding to provide support for specialty clinics.

Making a local—and global—difference.

In addition to her full-time career, Jackie finds time to volunteer her time and services to the local and global public health communities.  

She’s worked extensively in emergency preparedness, and has been a first responder to several major incidents, including Hurricane Sandy in New York City, Hurricane Irene in Binghamton, and the crash of Flight 3407 in Clarence, NY. She’s also traveled to areas to help treat the H1N1 Epidemic and Hepatitis A outbreaks.  

“All of the money in the world doesn’t mean as much to me as helping someone," she says.   

Jackie is also an adjunct professor at D’Youville College in Buffalo, where she teaches introduction to public health.  

“I love working with students because they’re so full of energy," she says. “It’s incredibly rewarding to give back to the next generation and continue to champion public health."

Giving back to UB.

Despite her non-stop work in the field and teaching, Jackie never forgets about her alma mater.  

“I didn’t grow up very wealthy and I was the first in my family to graduate from college,” she says when asked why she continues to volunteer with UB. “I believe I owe the university for everything I have.”  

Whether it’s as a regular seminar presenter, field site mentor, sitting on committees or helping the school achieve accreditation from the Council on Education for Public Health, Jackie never shies away from a volunteer opportunity.  

To recognize her for her invaluable contributions, the University at Buffalo Office of Alumni Engagement presented her with the Volunteer of the Year Award in 2019.  

In the rare moments she’s not bettering her local community or off healing those affected by state emergencies, Jackie enjoys spending time with her husband Ron Andula (BS ’95), and their four dachshunds.

Story by Grace Gerass

Published June 4, 2019