Featured Collaborator: Dr. Susan Jackels, Seattle University

March 21, 2013
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Seattle University student Angelica Omaiye (left) and Dr. Susan Jackels (right) performing coffee research

Meet Susan Jackels, our featured collaborator.

One of the most fulfilling parts of solving development challenges through collaboration is having the opportunity to work with researchers who are pushing the boundaries of their particular scientific niches.  For nearly a year, the Global Knowledge Initiative has had the privilege of working with Dr. Susan Jackels, a Chemist at Seattle University.

From Chemistry to Coffee

Susan dedicates much of her time to expanding knowledge on improved coffee growing and processing techniques for farmers in developing countries.  Despite her busy schedule as a professor, Susan travels back and forth between Seattle and Nicaragua, working with Nicaraguan coffee farmers and using coffee chemistry research to identify best practices.  Susan began researching coffee following an international coffee crisis in 2001—the commodity price of coffee dropped and small-scale farmers struggled to maintain their livelihoods.  Initially, she knew little about coffee’s chemistry (though she admits that she is a “coffee fanatic”), but she offered to partner with a Nicaraguan chemist to research Nicaraguan farmers’ coffee fermentation processes.  Since then, she has become an expert on coffee chemistry, collaborating with farmers, chemists, and the private sector to improve coffee quality.

Creating Change in Rwanda through Research and Personal Relationships

Susan greatly values the personal connections she builds through her work.  When approaching farmers for possible collaboration she first finds common social ground by meeting families and becoming comfortable in the community.  She involves students in every step of her research, giving them as much practical experience as possible, and collaborates with her husband, Dr. Charles Jackels, a Professor Emeritus of Physical Sciences and Computing and Software Systems (joint appointment) at University of Washington, Bothell, who helps by running statistical and computational tests.  Susan’s natural talents in inter-cultural communication and collaboration combined with her background in science render her an ideal partner for GKI.

Susan’s expertise in coffee chemistry allows her to play a key role in the LINK (Learning and Innovation Network for Knowledge and Solutions): Rwanda program working on the challenge of a “potato taste defect” found in Rwandan and Burundian coffee.  In collaboration international (US, France, Rwanda, and Kenya) team Susan has started to demystify the complex chemical process causing the potato taste defect.  By testing the chemical differences between coffee with and without “potato taste” she is working to identify the defect’s cause and help prevent it.  Susan hopes that her research, in combination with the efforts of partners around the world, will result in better coffee quality and thus improved livelihoods for Rwandan coffee farmers.

– Contributors: Peter Glover and Andrew Gerard