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In Memoriam: Abana Jacobs, Tireless Advocate for Science Education and AAAS

Abana Jacobs, second from right, posed with AAAS staff and AAAS/Subaru Prize-winning authors at the 2020 AAAS Annual Meeting. | Robb Cohen Photography & Video

Abana Jacobs, a marketing executive who spearheaded science education partnerships between Subaru of America, Inc., and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, died Nov. 23 near her home in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She was 62.

Over a 28-year career at Subaru, Jacobs became known for her warmth and positivity. To many colleagues, she was like family: Her nickname around the office was “Mama J.”

“She was this bright, beaming person with so much energy and enthusiasm,” said Sarah Ingraffea, a AAAS awards manager who worked closely with Jacobs. “It was really infectious. She was one of those people that made everyone happy and made everyone feel included.”

Jacobs’ joie de vivre helped her build relationships with organizations that embody her passion for science education and environmental stewardship, such as the National Park Foundation and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. It also made her the perfect public face for Subaru’s philanthropic initiatives. At Yosemite Facelift, an annual cleanup event supported by Subaru, she ran a booth that offered park visitors advice on how to reduce their impact on the landscape.

In 2006, she helped establish the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books. Each year, the prize honors science writing and illustration in four categories, from picture books to young adult nonfiction.

“She was a champion for science literacy,” Ingraffea said. “She knew that if you get a good foundation as a child, it will make you curious throughout your life and give you a good base knowledge on how to read about science.”

Jacobs supported AAAS Family Science Days. | Sarah Ingraffea

After playing an important role in launching the book prize, Jacobs continued to search for ways to support STEM educators and spur students’ interest in science. For several years, AAAS and Subaru brought educators to the AAAS Annual Meeting, providing them with professional development opportunities and the chance to network with authors whose work had won the book prize. Jacobs also supported AAAS Family Science Days. Subaru’s booth at the annual event has featured a reading lounge, meet-and-greets between authors and students, and hands-on science experiments.

In 2015, Jacobs further strengthened the partnership between her company and AAAS by leading the Subaru Loves Learning initiative. Through the program, Subaru retailers across the country worked with AAAS to donate books that had been winners or finalists of the AAAS/Subaru Prize to underserved schools. AAAS then provided the schools with educational resources to help integrate the books into their curricula. In 2019 alone, 545 retailers donated approximately 91,000 books to 550 schools.

“Abana often looked for opportunities to build on our collaboration, wanting to support STEM education and trying to make an impact on student learning,” said Suzanne Thurston, interim director of STEM workforce, culture and education at AAAS. “She was a tremendous STEM education advocate and was passionate about sharing the importance of science literacy.”

“Abana worked with so many of us at AAAS, and we all send our heartfelt condolences to her family and friends,” said Andrew Black, chief of staff at AAAS. “She was a tireless advocate for AAAS and we are so thankful for all the energy and enthusiasm she put into this partnership. We will miss her laughter and infectious spirit.”

In an online collection of letters honoring Jacobs, colleagues expressed their love and appreciation for her.

“The work and impact you made on others is amazing throughout all that you have done on our green Earth,” one letter read. “You have inspired me to do much more and to make an impact like you have done throughout your career.”

“Being on the same team as you has been a JOY. Your positive vibes are contagious,” read another. “I’ve learned so much from you. … SOA Marketing just will never be the same without Mama J and her infinite wisdom.”

Jacobs is survived by her mother, five siblings, two children, two grandchildren, and many nieces, nephews, and in-laws.