Alumni Spotlight: Materials Science and Engineering graduate competes at Olympics

Erin Jackson
Erin Jackson, U.S. Olympic Speed Skater

Erin Jackson has a new material in her life: ice.

The 2015 University of Florida Materials Science and Engineering alumna traded her inline skates for ice skates and, even to her surprise, made the United States Olympic speed skating team in January 2018.

Jackson is a Cinderella story.

An inline skater for 15 years and more recent derby competitor, she spent only four months training on ice before finishing third in the 500-meter race during the Olympic trials in Milwaukee and snagging the final of three spots.

Before the qualifying races, Jackson had never skated the course in less than 40 seconds. In Milwaukee, she had two personal bests, completing the course in 39.22 seconds and 39.04 seconds. In a sport often separated by hundredths of a point, Jackson decreased her time by a few tenths of a point.

Jackson was raised in Ocala, Florida, where ice keeps your drinks cold and is found in thin layers during the worst of Florida winters. The closest skating rink is more than an hour away.

However, on February 18, after less than six months of training, Jackson made her Olympic debut in PyeongChang.

She won her heat and finished in 24th place, rising a dramatic seven spots above where she started and setting her up for a promising career in speed skating.

What took her so long to transition into a sport that could land her at the Olympics?

Jackson said that she wanted to finish college first.

During her time in the Department of Materials Science, Jackson worked with Jack Mecholsky, Ph.D.

“Erin Jackson was an outstanding student,” Mecholsky said. “She was a very careful experimenter and a delight to work with.”

He added that, not surprisingly, she was very organized and completed everything on time.

Her undergraduate thesis focused on fracture mechanics of dental ceramics and was completed in conjunction with UF’s Center for Dental Biomaterials.

“I think she developed the skills of organization and timeliness from her love of athletics,” Mecholsky said. “Her senior thesis work was outstanding and will contribute to a journal publication.”

She graduated cum laude with her bachelor’s degree.

Prior to coming to UF, Jackson graduated from Forest High School, where she was in the Engineering and Manufacturing Institute of Technology program.

Jackson competed alongside Olympic speed skaters and Ocala natives Brittany Bowe and Joey Mantia.

Jackson is looking forward to future Olympic competitions and a graduate degree.

We will be cheering her on in both.