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Jackie Leung advocates for improving maternal health equity

College of Health doctoral student is committed improving the health and well-being of Micronesian mothers and families.

Portrait of Jackie Leung

Jackie Leung, an assistant professor of public health at Linfield University and executive director of Micronesian Islander Community (MIC), has dedicated her career to improving maternal health equity. She’s also a public health doctoral student in the College of Health.

Her research on Micronesian traditional birth practices and perinatal depression reflects a deep commitment to understanding and supporting the needs of Micronesian mothers and families.

What inspired you to study this area?

Micronesians, and Pacific Islanders in general, have higher rates of birth complications. My journey with motherhood, family and community-engaged work shaped my research and interest in learning about traditional birth practices, birth stories and perinatal depression.

After I gave birth to my first child, I was partially paralyzed due to complications from a medical procedure. My mother and grandmother provided limited traditional postpartum medicines. I believe this helped contribute to my healing.

During the first term of my public health PhD program at OSU, after giving birth to my fourth child, I experienced horrible postpartum depression. Despite my understanding and knowledge of PPD, I did not understand what was happening to me until nearly eight months later.

These experiences shaped my research interests and commitment in addressing the disparate birth experiences of Micronesians.

What is your current position, and what was your career progression? What do you enjoy most about your career?

I had the unique opportunity of working in government, academia, nonprofit, and for-profit sectors and being paid for most of it. Now, I balance my time teaching and providing community-engaged outreach and direct service support.

I am an assistant professor of public health at Linfield University. I am also the executive director of the statewide nonprofit, Micronesian Islander Community (MIC). I am a certified traditional health worker in Oregon – certified as a community health worker, peer support specialist and personal health navigator.

I joined MIC in 2012 after being invited to a board meeting after interviewing a board member as part of my work as a community radio DJ host. I started as the MIC secretary, building my experience and knowledge, before becoming chair. In 2020, MIC formally separated from its fiscal sponsor and I became the executive director. We’ve expanded our programs to the entire state of Oregon and to the islands of Chuuk, Pohnpei and the Marshall Islands.

I enjoy the ability to balance my time between teaching, mentoring and advising students interested in a public health career with my community-engaged work. I like being and working within my community, while also providing education, resources and advocating for programs that best support the needs of Micronesians.

How has your work impacted the health and well-being of the AAPI community?

I ran and won elected local office in 2019, serving as a City of Salem City Councilor for four years. Between that and the work I do within the community, my work impacts the health and well-being of AAPI in the following ways:

  • Representing the community in policy decision-making.
  • Establishing new partnerships and programs, including making movement toward the most ambitious project yet: Building 41 affordable housing units and establishing the first Micronesian cultural and resource center on the continental U.S. The only other two are in Hawaii and Guam.
  • Advocating for the health and well-being of the community.
  • Creating, in partnership, new job trainings and fellowships, including designing a Pacific Islander community health worker curriculum, and offering workforce development trainings for people to become health care interpreters and alcohol and drug counselors.
  • Connecting numerous community members to Oregon’s Medicaid program — the Oregon Health Plan, housing programs and support services, education and resources.

What message would you like to share for AAPI Heritage Month?

I would love to share two quotes from two leaders, one who was the co-founder of the Micronesian Islander Community.

Rait Sonis, Chuukese elder, leader and pastor:

“Ekis me Ekis” -Chuukese

“Little by little” -English translation

Mr. Sonis’ quote is my reminder that things take time. The MIC housing and cultural center has been a dream of the co-founders for over 13 years. We are almost there.

Grace Lee Boggs, author and activist:

“I can remember swearing when I was young that I would not change, because if I changed, I would betray the revolution. And as I’ve grown older, I’ve understood that I should change and … and changing is really more honorable than not changing.”

Mrs. Boggs’ quote is my reminder that as we get older, we will change, but we hope to change in ways that better humanity and the world at large.

Anything else you’d like to add?

If you have elders who are still in your life, such as grandparents and great-grandparents who know traditional medicines or practices, ask them to teach you.