Their office is located in the busy hub of the Memorial Student Center, a cozy place where students come to collect information, get answers for their pressing questions, spend time on the computer, study, sit and chat, or just chill until their next class.
The Center for African American Students' Programs is a welcoming place and Fran Jackson, who’s one of the first people students are likely to encounter, is one of the reasons it is. She’s been on the job for 25 years, coming to the center shortly after graduating from Marshall with a B.A. in Business Education and a M.S. in Adult and Technical Education. With her big heart and warm compassion, she had found her niche. The Program Assistant II says even though a lot of things have changed over the years, the students’ needs and concerns haven’t. “I enjoy working with our students. They keep me young, and they keep me abreast of what’s going on with young people and that’s a good thing,” Jackson says.
And, she explains, “The center offers many programs during the academic year. We usually start the year with a Welcome Reception for our new and returning students. Our Annual Outstanding Black High School Students Weekend, a recruiting program, is one of our biggest events. Other programs are our Annual Diversity Breakfast, Soul Food Feast, (my favorite), Women of Color Celebration, Donning of Kente graduation ceremony ... and we end the year with our Annual End-of-Year BBQ,” she says, quickly ticking off the expansive list of activities.
The center, under the direction of Maurice Cooley and staffed by Jackson and three graduate assistants, “assists our students in any way we can. If we can’t help, we will make sure that someone will.”
There’s a homey bustle to their office as students flow in and out all day. “We’re glad they come and use our services,” Jackson says. “There are times students may have a hard time transitioning into the university and may need assistance in getting involved. Our mentoring program, where we pair a freshmen student with an upper-class student or [a] staff [member], helps students to make that transition from high school to college a smooth one while also offering support, being a confidante and doing activities together, making sure they are doing well academically. Our goal is to help maximize their potential to graduate.”
Jackson is an admirable role model because she’s actively involved with several groups herself. This year, she took on the role as president of the Marshall University Black Alumni Incorporated, a group which traditionally hosts a series of events during Homecoming and throughout the year. She admits she’s was bit apprehensive about taking on such a big responsibility, but she’s already hard at work planning the festivities for Homecoming 2012. There will be a Champagne Welcome Back Reception on Friday, Oct. 5, and a laid-back after-function, where alums can dance, play old school games, get reacquainted with their classmates, eat, and just have a good time. Saturday will be the annual business meeting with a tailgate before the game partnered with the MU Alumni Association. After the game comes the “red carpet” affair, the Black Alumni Dance sponsored by MU’s Epsilon Delta Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., which will celebrate its 50th anniversary at Marshall during Homecoming 2012. “I’m excited, and everyone is welcome to attend,” she says brimming with anticipation.
Jackson also is the advisor for two campus groups, MU’s Theta Omega chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated and the Black United Students Social Organization, which is being revamped right now, she notes. Student social groups are important to the fabric of college life, she firmly believes, because, “in addition to providing fellowship and fun, these groups provide a way for students to develop lifelong relationships and leadership skills they will utilize throughout their lives. It’s also a way to keep them involved within the university. We also have the Society of Black Scholars, under the direction of Director Cooley, which is a group of academically excellent students from the Tri-state. They too, are a joy to work with.”
And Jackson makes time to stay involved with her own family as well, sisters Kim Steward, of Beckley, and Antoinette Wooding of Charleston. Growing up in a family where holidays were a cherished tradition made special by their mother, the sisters took up the social mantle following her death 15 years ago. “I do Thanksgiving, Antoinette does Christmas and Kim does Easter. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a way for the whole family to get together and bond. It’s worked out really well.” Their biggest regret is that they can’t always share the festivities with their father and their two half-siblings, David and Jessica, who live in San Jose, Calif.
Jackson is a member the Huntington Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., the Black Swans Book Club in Huntington and The Get Away Social Club in Charleston. Members of the Get Away Club look forward all year to doing just that, getting away with a beach vacation as their prime objective. “We love those beach trips. Virginia Beach is our favorite. We rent a big beach house, a different one every year, and ‘vacation’ the whole week. We all love it” Her significant other ”Bo”, an avid gardener, likes to travel along also to take in some fishing by the ocean.
A highlight of the academic year is a cultural
trip to New York City. The students look forward to making this trip to explore
the sites and sample the many treats New York has to offer. They have visited
Wall Street, attended Broadway shows, taken the subway to Harlem to have lunch
at the nationally recognized Sylvia’s Soul Food Restaurant, attended a New York
Knicks game, explored Central Park and sundry museums, sat in on an Alvin Ailey
dance class, and visited the SOHO area, along with a host of other activities.
“We have chaperones on board and each one is responsible for coming up with a
place/activity for our students to visit,” Jackson says. “We leave free time for
the students as well to 'do' Manhattan.” And there’s a welcome bonus for the
travelers. A self-described serial shopper herself, the genial Jackson is wowed
by all the shopping possibilities. “Who wouldn’t love to shop in New York City!”
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