Born in Joliet, Illinois, Jackie grew up in farming areas of southwestern Pennsylvania. As a child, she was fascinated with nature, especially plants, insects, and birds. Her parents, both chemical engineers, fostered her interest in natural history and encouraged a career in science or medicine. Following a rigorous parochial school education, she obtained a BS in biology at the University of Pittsburgh and an MS in biology from Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. While in the Washington area, she worked as curator of Drosophila at the University of Maryland, College Park, and was also an instructor in biology at Gallaudet College. In 1968, she began working as an assistant curator for the Allyn Foundation in Chicago, Illinois, and later the Allyn Museum of Entomology in Sarasota, Florida. In 1982, she had the opportunity to resume graduate coursework at the University of Florida and earned her doctorate in zoology under the guidance of Thomas C. Emmel. Through her graduate work, she was able to advance her developing expertise in the systematics of castniid moths and related taxa.
In 1981, the collections and facilities of the Allyn Museum of Entomology were donated to the University of Florida Foundation and became part of the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. Although the Allyn Museum remained an off campus facility in Sarasota until 2004, Jackie served as a curator and administrator within the Department of Natural History and maintained an active association with students and colleagues in Gainesville. Together with her husband and colleague, Lee D. Miller, she also served as adjunct faculty and taught various courses in entomology, biogeography and systematics at New College in Sarasota. A devoted teacher, she mentored visiting scholars and students from both campuses in various facets of Lepidoptera research. At UF, Jackie continues to be a sought out advisor and was honored with a UF Research Foundation Professorship award in 2008.
An active member of numerous scientific societies, Jackie has served in various capacities including Lepidopterists' Society assistant secretary (1971-1976), member at large (1977-80) and president (1989-1990). She has also held office in the Entomological Society of America, including Section Chair for Systematics and Representative to the Governing Board, and was elected and honored as an ESA fellow in 2008. She has served in an editorial capacity for the Bulletin of the Allyn Museum since its inception in 1970 and is an active peer reviewer of multiple serial publications. She is currently the Allyn Curator of Lepidoptera, Associate Director of the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the Florida Museum, and holds faculty appointments in the Departments of Biology and Entomology and Nematology.
Jackie's research interests focus on the systematics, biogeography, and life histories of Hesperioidea, Nymphalidae, and Castniidae, as well as phylogenetic analysis and vicariance biogeography of Lepidoptera, especially endemic genera in the West Indies and the Caribbean basin. In 1994, she co-authored The Butterflies of the West Indies and South Florida along with David Spencer Smith and Lee D. Miller. Her travels have taken her to various countries in the Caribbean, Central and South America, and South Africa. She is currently completing a long-standing survey of macrolepidoptera of the Bahamas and has been instrumental in initiating a comprehensive inventory of the Lepidoptera of Honduras.