A Passion for Advising
Director creates a holistic approach to student success
KENNESAW, Ga. (Sep 27, 2018) — Even while playing in the NFL as a defensive tackle for the Atlanta Falcons and the Kansas City Chiefs, Tommy Jackson knew that he wouldn’t play the game forever.
“Football was a means to get where I wanted to be. It was an educational opportunity. But at first, I didn’t think I was going to college, I thought I was going into the military,” said Jackson, now the director of University College Advising Services at Kennesaw State University.
But while at Auburn as a student-athlete, college football did show Jackson a potential path for his future. The football team’s academic counselor made an impression on Jackson and showed him a path where he could use his passion for helping others.
After three years in the NFL, Jackson chose to retire and begin his work in higher education. When he joined Kennesaw State University in 2013, he worked as an academic advisor for the women’s basketball, women’s lacrosse, and women’s soccer teams. As KSU football got off the ground, he was able to step into that role and help guide the players through the academic challenges college can present. He built an academic support program that developed student-athletes both in and out of the classroom. The program focused on navigating the college experience, tracking NCAA eligibility, teaching time management skills and helping students find academic programs that matched their passions.
His hard work with the football team paid off as the team maintained a GPA of 3.0 in its first semester as a program. Jackson encouraged the students to look to the future and helped them plan for life after college football.
“I kept telling my students, ‘at some point you aren’t going to be playing football. Where will you be 20 years from now, what will you have done with your life?’”
Helping students find their passion drives the path of University College Advising Services under Jackson.
“What we do is listen to students. We provide a space for students to discuss a myriad of issues ranging from career aspirations, life goals, and any other student matter. From those conversations, we help them forge a path towards academic success and to have an amazing college experience,” he said. Students can come in for advice about classes, to talk about uncertainty in a career path, or to share struggles with managing the workload of college courses.
“If you don’t have guidance, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost,” Jackson said. “Even the language can be confusing: registrar, bursar, FAFSA. If these are terms you didn’t hear growing up, then how are you going to know what to do when you get to college? We’re providing that information and a place to ask those questions.”
He finds a particular joy in offering support to first-generation students and other African-American men.
“I take my role as an example to other young men very seriously, especially my role to African American males. I want them to see me prospering and know they can too,” he said.
Providing that representation is vital for Jackson. He knows the importance of role modeling because of the examples he had that led to his academic success. An example of his commitment to role modeling, he is a member of the research group that created Black Wall Street. This program is to enhance the success trajectories for African-American male students at KSU by providing role modeling, peer mentoring, and support from successful African American male professionals.
“This program builds relationships among African American males and helps them share issues that are otherwise never spoken about,” Jackson said. The work in those groups also gives the students an opportunity to talk about various sensitive subjects that pertain to education, economics, and race.
Jackson believes in the power of advisement, building programs, and the importance of listening to students.
“Advising can make or break a student’s college experience. From pre-orientation appointments to orientation, we are one of the first groups to engage with students at the university. It is vital to make a great first impression because those interactions will determine a student’s perception of the university.”
With plans to step into the classroom as a professor, Jackson is ready for the opportunity to continue working within Kennesaw State to bring about change and touch down into a bright future.
Learn more about Tommy Jackson in the episode 3 of the University College podcast.
– Andrea Judy
Photos by David Caselli