Kyle Jackson

Out on a limb

October 4, 2007

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Most of the people Kyle Jackson will address at SFU’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Oct. 4 convocation ceremony have probably never heard of Mizoram.

Even his early-modern world history instructor had to consult an atlas after reading a paper Jackson wrote on the obscure, mountainous state in northeastern India, sandwiched between Bangladesh and Burma.

"It is a little off the beaten track," agrees the North Vancouver native, who convocates with a BA in history, having already earned a level of ‘street cred’ among historians that is rare for an undergraduate.

Jackson’s article, A Preface to a History of Modern Humans, earned him the World History Association & Phi Alpha Theta undergraduate paper prize in 2005, an exceptional feat for a then- second-year student.

But it’s what he did with the prize money that impressed almost everyone. He took an impromptu three-month sabbatical and flew 11,000 km to Mizoram to see the place for himself, do some primary field research and present a paper at a Mizoram University history conference.

"It was truly a life-changing experience," says the young adventurer, who had rarely travelled outside B.C. before, let alone to a very remote and restricted part of India where you still need a special permit to enter. His paper received a warm welcome at the conference, except for one scholar who dubbed it a "futuristic" history and most likely the work of a CIA operative.

Since his return, Jackson has been actively lobbying to get much-needed medical equipment for Mizoram. "I’ve perfected the fine art of microscope gleaning," he says, which consists of pestering universities to donate surplus microscopes for use in the creation of malaria detection centres.

He’s managed to obtain six from UBC, two of which are "providing not only lifetime employment for their operators, but also protection for people in the region’s remotest southern villages from one of the most dangerous health risks in the state." He plans to build on his fascination for the Indian subcontinent with language and graduate studies.

His speech, he says, will "encourage students to go out on a limb. Maybe take some time to continue a project you started at SFU. Or go beyond just academics, and see what you can do to help a place you became interested in during your studies. I highly recommend it."

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