She didn’t realize it at the time, but Jackie Dupont says the first time she met 4-H extension leader Emily King , she was meeting someone who would be one of the greatest influences in her life.
Dupont was 12-years-old when she wanted to become involved in
4-H. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a local club in Plant City, but that didn’t deter young Dupont. She found an ally in King who said she was willing to start an out-of-school senior 4-H club.
“Emily King was the greatest thing,” said Dupont. “She led this group of six or eight of us through junior and senior high school. She was a great leader because she made every child think they could do whatever they wanted to do and helped us be able to do it.”
Upon joining 4-H, Dupont realized she was two years behind her age group. She quickly completed two full years of projects so she could progress with her peers.
Dupont’s persistence continued throughout her 4-H years. "We started a women's revolution," Dupont said. She and her friends in 4-H wanted to be on the cattle judging team, but, in those days, girls weren't allowed. So they started their own team, and won 8th place in the county as opposed to the boys, who came in 13th.
"Those boys to this day are still fussing about that," she said. At Dupont’s insistence, girls were also allowed enter the tractor-driving contest for the first time – trailblazing into a new project area for girls, where previously only boys had been permitted. The group also created the East Hillsborough Junior Agriculture Fair that is now part of Plant City’s annual Strawberry Festival.
“The events that took place in 4-H for those years of junior high and high school were the most important in my life to that point,” said Dupont. “There were a lot of events--showing my cows at fairs and putting on youth fairs (Plant City Junior Agriculture Fair). I did other things, but 4-H was by far my major interest.”
Also very important to Dupont during this phase of her life was the opportunity she had each summer to travel to Florida State University for “short courses”. Every second week of June 4-H girls went to the University and spent a week being taught by extension staff and faculty.
“It was so eye-opening to attend these,” said Dupont. “I was 250 miles from home. I stayed on campus and went to classes during the day and assemblies in the auditorium. It gave me great self-confidence to get a glimpse of a world beyond my hometown.”
Each year Dupont makes donations to Jefferson County 4-H that make it possible for other youth to have this same experience at Florida 4-H Congress.
From 4-H, Dupont went to Florida State University on a home economics scholarship. She had wanted to be an engineer, she said, but the male engineer career counselor in her high school got mad when she attended a meeting and wanted her out. "He couldn't tell dirty stories with me there," she said. "I'd like to wring his neck now."
The persistence that Dupont brought into 4-H, and the self-confidence she gained while there, has served her well throughout her life. She received a bachelor of science degree in food and nutrition from Florida State University, a Master of Science degree in nutrition from Iowa State University, and a Ph.D. in food and nutrition from Florida State University.
While working on her master’s degree at Iowa State University, Dupont began some of the first nutrition research with radioisotopes. She continued her work with radioisotopes on dietary fat and lipid metabolism.
After receiving her doctorate, she went to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, DC, where she continued studies of cholesterol synthesis. Then she went to teach biochemistry to medical students at Howard University.
Again, she blazed a new trail. "I made them do a nutrition study," she said. Her medical school classes were the only two in the United States with such nutrition experience. Throughout her research, Dupont was publishing professionally.
At Colorado State University, she again was the first in her department to work with radioisotopes. Her studies led to the discovery that a drug designed to lower cholesterol, in reality, caused a brain abnormality. Her findings were submitted to the Food & Drug Administration, and the drug was not approved for use. In 1996, she returned to Florida.
She has held positions with the USDA’s Agriculture Research Service, Howard University’s School of Medicine, the University of Colorado Medical Center and Florida State University. Now retired, Dupont holds the honorary Hazel Stiebeling Professional Chair at Florida State University where she guides graduate students and faculty in their research endeavors.
“4-H was absolutely fundamental to my developing and leading my own life,” said Dupont. “It gave me the vision that people could control their own lives and grow.”