Karen Jackson, Ph.D.
BS, Chemistry, 1994
How did USM prepare you to achieve your goals?
My goal when I first started at USM was to complete a mechanical engineering degree because mentors told me I could make money in engineering. Once I began living “the college life,” I realized how overwhelming taking 18 credit hours and taking care of myself day to day could be. I also learned early that I was struggling with anxiety and depression. I changed my major three times. I learned it’s OK to change my mind, but it can be costly (extra tuition and time). I share this to let students know that life happens while you are making plans and achieving your goals. As I grew up on USM’s campus, I learned more about myself and what I wanted to do with my life.
My experience as a research assistant during summers with the United States Geological Survey, at Stennis Space Center, and working as a chemistry lab teaching assistant on campus were significant influences on my decision to complete the bachelor’s degree in chemistry. My involvement in both the infamous Pride of Mississippi marching band and concert band and membership in the African American Student Organization shaped my on-campus experience and set me up to succeed because I had these support systems on campus.
My undergraduate experiences and bachelor’s degree prepared me for a career as a lab technician, bench chemist. Ten years later, when I decided to change careers, my master’s degree prepared me for my career as mathematics faculty member. While neither of these careers were my original goal, the time I spent at USM learning more about myself and what it takes to operate in the world helped me to make decisions about my career. Ultimately, the decision to move into my current career occurred many years after I left USM, but some of the relationships I made during my time at USM were an important part of my decision to complete my doctorate in educational research and policy analysis at North Carolina State University in 2014.
Success is focusing on the arrival. Mastery is focusing on the reach.Dr. Sarah Lewis in The Rise
What would you tell your younger self?
I would tell my younger self to stay focused; walk in the path set before you; do not fear; the hard work will pay off. In your life, you will have experiences you never dreamed of.
Don’t be in such a hurry to get married. There is plenty of time to do that later. You don’t need to be in a hurry to do anything. You just need to always be doing something productive, something that matters. God redeems the time.
The advice of the elders is valuable and should be applied as soon as you understand it. You don’t have to try some things to see if the elders are right. The elders are always right.
However, since I know, like me, that you will try things, know that it is OK to make mistakes. I made them too. It’s what you do afterward that matters.
Listen to your heart/intuition; it will not fail you as long as you let God lead you.
You are a light. You are the light. Never let anyone – any person or any force – dampen, dim or diminish your light. Study the path of others to make your way easier and more abundant."From Representative John Lewis’ 2017 memoir, "Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America"
Words of wisdom to Black college students?
I am currently faculty at North Carolina A&T State University, in Greensboro, the largest HBCU (Historically Black College & University) in the nation. Before working at A&T, I attended what we call predominantly white institutions (PWI). This is important to my response because of the context. I now know that the experience of going to college with peers of your racial group is extremely different from going to a college where most of your peers are of a racial group that is not the same as yours. I also now know that there is a layer of pressure added to the college experience when the majority racial peer group is representative of systemic oppression.
Now, my words of wisdom to Black college students, specifically Black college students attending a PWI. The relationships you make now do matter because they are a part of the network you will carry with you when you graduate. They matter now, at this moment, maybe more than ever because you have an opportunity to have real conversations with people who later could have much influence in the world. What we share about how systemic oppression influences our families and us with our peers of European descent makes the difference between them having real information and them making it up for themselves.
For social justice change to continue to move forward, we must continue to talk about what we see and experience from our point of view. Freedom is always at stake.
"Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.”From Representative John Lewis’ 2017 memoir, "Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America"
I will add, stay connected to those people who are most important to you. No experience, whether you feel it was a success or a failure, is wasted. Never stop learning. Protect your work. Take care of your health; there’s only one YOU! Pay careful attention to and be frugal with your finances.
Was college worth the investment?
For me, yes, I believe college was worth the investment. I also know that I had to
search for opportunities to see the worth of the investment. I had to let people know
what was happening so that my student loan debt did not get out of hand. For example,
there was a hiring freeze at one point, so I needed help finding work in my field.
What was the most impactful topic covered in The Unheard Word?
While I enjoyed segments like Motherland Memories and the issue on the Black Student Agenda for the 21st Century, for me The Unheard Word was more than the topics covered. It was a presence. Dr. Brown was my roommate for a semester or so. I recall the long hours she spent putting The Unheard Word together. Some nights she did not sleep. This call to have the collective voice of Black students on campus heard was a mission for Dr. Brown. Black students on campus looked forward to The Unheard Word coming out. The way the publication brought us together and gave us a voice on campus is what I feel was most impactful about The Unheard Word.
"Value the importance of thinking for yourself." --Busta Rhymes in The Messy Truth interview with Van Jones