Campus Support Lands Jackson in Principal's Office
Yolanda Jackson refers to her educational experience at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside as "quite the journey."
Some students finish high school, enter college and graduate with an exact idea of what they want to do for a career and wind up in that exact career. Others, like Jackson, are molded along the way, picking up bits of inspiration and advice from professors and advisers so that the experiences they encounter ultimately dictate what they decide to do in life.
This would best describe the path that Jackson took at UW-Parkside. And it was a very successful and enlightening one, considering Jackson has been the principal at Wilson Elementary School in Kenosha since 2000.
But flash back to when Jackson was a senior at Bradford High School, and she readily admits that she was not quite prepared for college.
"I had not prepared myself for college during middle and high school at all in terms of prep courses and what not," Jackson said.
During her senior year at Bradford, though, the late Mary Lou Mahone introduced Jackson and some other young students to UW-Parkside and Carthage College. Jackson found both schools appealing but was extremely impressed by the representatives from UW-Parkside.
"I liked the support they were willing to offer me, being the first one to attend college in my family," Jackson remembers.
Jackson received some financial support from the community, most notably a scholarship from the Marvalette Social Club, a group of African American women within the community.
Still, times were not easy when she arrived on campus. During her first semester, Jackson's grandmother, who raised her, passed away, which Jackson says was "a mighty blow to me." Slowly but surely, Jackson found another supportive family in the form of her professors and advisers.
"The staff was remarkable at getting me on the right path," Jackson said. "I remember working with Pam Smith, Roseanne Mason and Anthony Brown, just to name a few. I needed re-directing a couple times, but I got there eventually."
When asked if any professors inspired her to choose education, Jackson joked, "By accident, I'm sure." But she quickly took a liking to literature and eventually received her bachelor's degree with an English major in 1995.
"I took a beginning-level English course with Rosemary Hunkeler, and at first I thought she was picking on me," Jackson recalls. "But she was just trying to get me to do my best, and it went on from there.
"My favorite courses were African American Women Writers and Contemporary Women Writers with Professor (Carole) Vopat. I also enjoyed Professor (Carl) Lindner and Professor (Patrick) McGuire. These people made literature come alive."
Outside the classroom, Jackson became involved with the staff in Union 209 and was a Campus Orientation Leader under the guidance of Diane Welsh and Steve McLaughlin.
"Diane was such a great mentor and person to work with," Jackson said. "She had me thinking of a career in college student personnel."
But another career option popped into Jackson's life when she began doing community work in her final year at UW-Parkside with JoAnn Goodyear, the former director of UW-Parkside's Career Center, who placed Jackson at Wilson Elementary School reading to a first-grade class.
"I started thinking, 'Wow, I'd really love to start working with elementary-age kids,'" Jackson recalled.
At this point, Jackson said she was torn between a career in college student personnel and elementary education. The obstacle to the latter career was that Jackson didn't have a degree in education.
That obstacle was overcome when, after visiting with an adviser, Jackson got her hands on a flier for EC3, an experimental program under the direction of Barbara Shade, who was UW-Parkside's dean of education at the time. The goal of EC3 was to get more minorities into elementary education.
EC3 required a bachelor's degree, and Jackson was accepted right after her graduation. During her time in EC3, she met people from many different backgrounds, some of whom had already started careers but were looking for a change. In fact, Jackson said she was the youngest person in her EC3 class.
Jackson continued to be an educational assistant at Wilson during summer school and was hired as a fourth-grade teacher there in 1998. Today, she's the school's principal.
So it's been a long and successful journey for someone who admits she was not as prepared for college as she should have been coming out of high school. But her time at UW-Parkside molded her into what she is today.
"I am still discovering, years later, just how much impact my educational experience at UW-Parkside had on my life and how it has prepared me to do the things I do," Jackson said.
And that includes her duties at home, where Jackson and her husband, Colin, are raising two sons and a daughter, ranging in age from just over one month to about five years.
"UW-Parkside equipped me with what I needed to be successful in the 'real world,' and then some," Jackson said.