For Jessica Jackson, one of two recipients of 2018-19 Martin Luther King, Jr. Minority Student Scholarships, her educational journey has not been a straight line, but rather a series of starts and stops and overcoming adversity.
The first stop on that journey came when she was a senior in high school in Lincoln. It was the sixth high school she had attended and would be her last. She dropped out with just a credit and a half to go before graduation.
Reflecting on her experience at Lincoln College, Jessica says, “I was just shocked. I felt like the teachers were finally with me. It was the personal relations with my teachers that made me stay.”
While still in high school she was working full time at multiple jobs in fast food restaurants and that continued after she dropped out. As she told the audience at the annual Joyce Kinzie/Martin Luther King Breakfast in January, she decided to make a change in 2010.
“I was a 20-year-old high school dropout fed up about living with the stigma of being an uneducated women of color, so I considered testing for my general education diploma. Though I had been out of school for three years, I dove straight in, and I took the GED test with no preparation,” she said.
But, the test proved overwhelming and she almost did not complete it.
“I became discouraged by all the numbers and questions, doubting my abilities. I felt like giving up, and my eyes read fear. The instructor that was responsible for monitoring the test must have heard me sobbing loudly from the back of the room as I airdried my Scantron from the tears that had rolled off my chin.
“The instructor and I made eye contact, and she gave me the signal to step out. At this point, I was under the assumption that I was being kicked out for disrupting the other four testers with my loud ugly cry,” Jackson told the audience.
Instead, the instructor took her aside in the hallway, grabbed both her hands and told her, “the hardest part of taking this test is building up the courage to try it, I believe that you can do this”.
Jackson walked back into the testing room “with my head held a little higher and my mind a little clearer” and passed the test.
“The instructor gave me a non-monetary donation of confidence, which was a necessity at that exact moment,” she said.
Still, that was just one crisis of confidence she would face.
While working at St. Clara’s Manor as a certified nurses assistant, her coworkers, impressed by her intelligence and work ethic, often encouraged her to go back to school. She had applied to a college in Springfield but did poorly on the placement test and her application had been denied.
“On my 23rd birthday, I woke up and began crying,” she said. “I felt like my life was flashing before my eyes and I hadn’t done anything.”
She remembered a “Register Now” sign while driving past Lincoln College.
“I jumped in my Santa Fe and drove to Lincoln college, that’s where I met Jason In admissions, another non-monetary donor to my educational journey,” she said. “Jason asked me a few basic questions, but only one question stood out, which was ‘have you had any college experience?’
She told him about her previous attempt to get into college, “Without hesitation, Jason stated ‘no worries Jessica, we have all the staff and resources you need to help further your education.’ Jason gave me a donation of hope for my future here at Lincoln college. Jason unknowingly encouraged me to trust and build relationships with my wonderful professors,” Jackson said.
She started out slowly, taking classes part time at first. It was touch and go, but she said the support of her academic advisor helped her get through the first semester. Then, in her second semester she faced another challenge – math.
“I had always told myself, you can’t do math,” she said.
But, math professor Jan Bowers had a different idea and with the help of Bowers and tutoring in the Academic Success Center, she found she could do math.
“I was just shocked. I felt like the teachers were finally with me,” she said. “It was the personal relations with my teachers that made me stay.”
Her original goal had been to get her Associate Degree and move on, but by the time she received her degree, Lincoln College was offering bachelor’s degrees in business management.
Ever since her days working at restaurants while still in high school, she says she’s found success and satisfaction in business, so business management was a natural choice.
“I like business. It’s really about the people and helping people,” she said. Jackson says she hopes to someday open a mortgage company, a business that both her mother and grandmother have been in.
“I want to give people the opportunity to have their own homes,” she added.
But, school was still not easy. She says her junior year was probably her most challenging year at Lincoln College. Again, with the help of her instructors – this time it was Dr. Diana Heeb Bivona who mentored her through her business finance class – she has found success at Lincoln College.
This spring, she will receive her bachelor’s degree. But, her educational journey is not over. The girl who dropped out of high school with just a credit and a half to go, is now a woman who is looking at pursuing a master’s degree in business.