Lauren Jackson has never been known to underachieve. Her mother, Jan Jackson, recalled that in kindergarten the teacher directed the other students to ask Lauren if they had any questions. Now 21 years old and one of 32 Rhodes Scholars in the United States in 2017, Lauren Jackson is still at the top of her class.
“She’s a leader,” Jan Jackson said. “She’s the go-to person.”
The scholarship is one of the most prestigious in the world, and it funds two to three years of study at the University of Oxford for its recipients. Lauren Jackson, a University of Virginia senior, plans to earn two master’s degrees. She has been studying social and political thought and does extensive research in what she calls “the nexus of journalism, public opinion and foreign policy,” studying the effects of media coverage on opinion and policy.
“I’m really interested in how news coverage influences public opinion and domestic public policy in regard to humanitarian issues,” Jackson said in a phone interview.
As an example: “How does what the New York Times or what the Washington Post says about Syria influence how policymakers respond to the Syrian refugee crisis? Does it matter if they frame the issue through a political lens, or does it have more impact if we use people who are actually in the midst of the crisis to discuss the topic?”
Having interned at CNN and the United Nations, Jackson plans to work in journalism during her time at Oxford and after graduation, and eventually she hopes to work in public policy.
While she said her plans are not set in stone, she will spend three years at Oxford pursuing a master’s degree in global governance and diplomacy and a master’s degree in refugee and forced migration studies. She has been involved in humanitarian causes for much of her life.
“I’ve been interested in humanitarian advocacy and advertising from a pretty young age,” Jackson said. “In high school, I was really interested in that.”
She is the youngest of five children and last in a line of highly motivated achievers. Her siblings include a former NFL player, a lawyer and graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Columbia University.
“Where some parents will push their kids and make them do different things, I’ve never had to do that,” Jeffrey Jackson, Lauren Jackson’s father, said. “My kids have always been very much wanting to be the best and do the best.”
The Jacksons are from Little Rock, Arkansas, and are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Lauren Jackson said her faith has become a defining part of her identity that follows — and guides — her in her scholarship and learning. Besides taking an active role in her ward in Charlottesville, Virginia, she allows her faith to shape her life and shares it freely when given the opportunity.
“Being a member of the church has always given me a very strong support network and community within which I’ve been able to explore, fashion and understand my own identity,” she said. “Being a Mormon really colors everything I do.”
As the recipient of several scholarships and an accomplished academic, she has had the opportunity to interact with many influential people and write myriad personal statements.
“All of mine (personal statements) start with how Mormonism is an integral aspect of my identity,” she said. “And I think my membership in the church has always been.”
She said because she has always lived in places where being a Mormon makes her a cultural minority, she has had many opportunities to share doctrines and beliefs of the gospel.
“I do find myself pretty consistently being asked questions about the church, about my feelings about church policy or church doctrine,” she said.
Jan and Jeffrey Jackson said they are proud of their daughter's accomplishments and impressed with her desire to help others through her work.
“It makes me very happy that she is kind of an outward person, using her talents to help others,” Jeffrey Jackson said. “Where a lot of people would think, ‘What can I do for me?’ Lauren very much has the ability to take all her talents and success and use them to say, ‘What can I do to make this world a better place?’”
Jan Jackson agreed. “She wants everyone to have what she’s had — a good life. And she’s going to go and change the world.”